CDC's change in mask guidance for health care facilities fails to protect patients – Chicago Tribune

CDC’s change in mask guidance for health care facilities fails to protect patients – Chicago Tribune

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent change in masking guidance allows health care facilities to end masking in clinical settings. This guidance misses the mark and fails to protect patients.

While the guidance does instruct that facilities continue masking where immunocompromised patients may be present, it fails to specify how a facility can implement such a policy. The messaging that masks are no longer needed in health care reinforces the idea that care is now “safe” without masks. But physicians and patients know fully well that immunocompromised and other vulnerable individuals mingle with other patients and staff in every waiting room and care space. Risk is far from black and white.

As physicians — two of us are immunocompromised — who have worked throughout the pandemic, we know that masking is not too challenging, too uncomfortable or too inconvenient to protect our patients.

The CDC’s guidance implies that going back to the “pre-COVID-19″ way is the right path. On the contrary, we strive to always learn and update policies based on updated scientific discoveries. We should implement new strategies in health care as our understanding of science and evidence builds. When doctors learned that hand-washing protected patients, it became the standard of care. There was once a time when sterile gloves and surgical equipment in operating rooms were not the norm.

While masks can make communication and facial expression challenging, and some patients may do better with unmasked providers, most of the care we provide can easily be done more safely with masks on. Not only for the immunocompromised but also for all patients who run the risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing long COVID-19, a disease we still have much to learn about. We should sort through when care without masks benefits patients instead of trying to shed our masks out of nostalgia, a need for comfort or out of political expediency.

Many medical centers and physician’s offices have already chosen to maintain masking in clinical areas, including here in Chicago. Next time you visit one, they will ask you to wear a mask to minimize COVID-19 transmission.

To those who receive or deliver health care where masking is suddenly missing, we encourage you to push for universal masking to protect you, your health and the health of your community.

— Dr. Shikha Jain, Dr. Seth Trueger and Dr. Emily Landon, Chicago

As a hospice chaplain in the community for almost 30 years, I am often tasked with finding community mental health professionals for others. I ran for local government to bring a health care and human service voice to our community. In Illinois, it is extremely challenging for people who are living with mental health and substance use challenges or developmental and intellectual disabilities to get the therapeutic help they need. Sadly, there is a drastic shortage of available services and excessive wait times for services, even for people who can privately pay.

Emergency department visits by people who are in a mental health crisis or who are suffering from a drug overdose are at all-time highs. Our public schools provide outstanding support for people with developmental disabilities, but they age out at 22 and typically wait several years to get services from the state.

The good news is we can help increase mental health services in our communities. In the November general election, there will be referendums on the ballot in several townships to create community mental health boards, known as 708 boards. These boards have a small taxing authority, subject to the approval of the local township board. The funds they generate are used to provide additional funding for more mental health services that stay within the local township.

For most homeowners, the additional tax will be about the cost of a large pizza — a small amount that pays to expand much-needed services.

I believe we all benefit as a community when we care for our most vulnerable neighbors.

I ask everyone to please vote yes.

— The Rev. Nicolle Grasse, Trustee, Arlington Heights Village Board

My father, James A. Serritella, passed away in April 2021. For a half century before his death, my father was the chief outside legal counsel for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Since the 1980s, much of his work became focused on the clergy sex abuse crisis, an issue on which he became a national, if not international, leader.

I was heartened to see John O’Malley’s op-ed about the Chicago Archdiocese’s decadeslong approach to implementing policies that attempt to protect children (“Chicago Archdiocese’s 3 decades of taking action against sex abuse,” Oct. 16). I believe my father was the primary force behind most of the most innovative policies that attempted to bring justice and healing to victims.

Over the course of his life, my father advocated the same message over and over: the need for compassion and to do the right thing. He believed that the church’s response would be measured by the compassion it showed its victims, its fairness and the effectiveness of its outreach to the community.

Below is an excerpt of some of his writings:

“The most difficult professional challenge I faced in my half century legal career is the clerical sex abuse crisis of the Catholic Church. My educational background was mostly in the humanities, which helped me take a broader view of problems that presented themselves as being legal, but which had ramifications that went well beyond the law.

“With this in mind, we advocated a different approach. I thought that good priests and other pastoral ministers should address the problem by reaching out to those injured and trying to help them. I thought it was preferable to spend money solving the problems of the injured, rather than spending it on lawyers mustering every possible defense and failing to address the hurt that the abuse inflicted. The church should address the problem by having its own pastorally sensitive personnel reach out to those injured and try to help them. Put another way, we are representing a church and the church acts best when it acts as a church.

“Looking back on all that we have done to address the problem, we sometimes feel disappointed because these efforts go unrecognized in the public arena. Here in Chicago, we began addressing the problem early and have carried on a creative, sustained and effective effort for many years. Nevertheless, even the damage inflicted here likely will still take decades or longer to overcome and heal.”

—James A. Serritella, Chicago

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