Our state’s hospitals and clinics are among the few places where large numbers of people are coming together on a daily basis under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). We anticipate a surge of patients in the coming weeks. As a family medicine resident and a member of the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR)/SEIU, the nation’s largest housestaff union, dedicated to advancing patient care, I am calling for all hospital and health clinic employees to wear a mask while they are at work.
These cannot simply be suggestions; it just takes a cursory look at what’s happening in hospitals in New York and Italy to understand why. These measures should be accompanied by daily universal temperature and symptom screenings for patients, visitors and employees on the way in and out of these facilities.
We are asking our health care professionals, technicians and environmental services staff to take unprecedented risks. Before COVID-19, many hospitals required employees engaged in patient care who did not get the seasonal influenza vaccine to wear a surgical mask while at work as an effort to protect both the worker and the patient. No one has immunity to this new virus. As we prepare to have more sick patients in the hospital and we learn that infected people can shed the virus without exhibiting any symptoms, we must be prepared.
With federal guidance lagging new best practices, it is time for New Mexico to protect its hospitals and its employees to ensure workplace safety and limit community spread of this novel virus. These ever-changing policies on personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing guidelines need to be conveyed in Spanish and other languages, as everyone deserves to be protected.
Leading health care organizations across the country began adopting similar policies for their institutions after so many of their front-line employees were removed from patient care due to confirmed or suspected infection with novel coronavirus. Let’s learn from them.
New Mexico can continue to lead in the effort to curb COVID-19 by providing more protective uniform guidance for all of its health care facilities. This pandemic will certainly impact New Mexico differently than other parts of the country, but this virus does not discriminate.
Somehow a 75-cent mask, one of the cheapest items in our health care system, has brought the most expensive health care system in the world to its knees. The shortage of PPE is undeniable, and we must preserve resources, including the higher-grade N95 mask, for those at highest risk. In the absence of an immediate and completely palatable solution, we must embrace the notion that fabric masks may be better than nothing.
This is sure to be met with much debate, but let’s not deliberate for too long, as the surge is coming.