Mandatory masking is returning to Kingston’s hospitals.
Citing “rising COVID-19 prevalence” in the region, Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) announced the immediate return to masking in a media release shared Thursday.
That means masks are now required in all public areas of Kingston General Hospital and Hotel Dieu Hospital, which fall under its guidance.
Providence Care Hospital will also move to mandatory face coverings starting Monday, pointing to the rising rate of the virus and other respiratory illnesses in the area.
In all three hospitals, masks are also mandatory in areas where physical distancing between staff isn’t possible, according to media releases from both hospital systems.
“The challenge is we’re dealing with people who have different perceptions of where we are with COVID-19,” said Dr. Gerald Evans, director of infection prevention and control at KHSC.
The move is meant to remove some of the guesswork around masking, he said.
“We’re trying to make it uniform,” Evans explained
The hospitals have reintroduced masking in order to do everything they can to protect patients, staff, volunteers and visitors, he added.
It’s an escalation that comes roughly three weeks after KHSC made masks necessary to visit units with high-risk patients, including the emergency department and urgent care centre.
A ‘very different picture’ than summer
Evans pointed to test positivity and outbreaks, saying they’ve shown a rise in the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community since mid-August.
“Current regional data indicates that test positivity has risen … from 10.1 per cent to 21.5 per cent in the past 10 days,” read a media release from KHSC, though it notes wastewater evidence suggests the spike could be a “short-lived rise in COVID-19 cases.”
For comparison, Evans referenced the summer, saying at some points Kingston had no outbreaks, test positivity in the single digits and few patients with the virus in hospital.
“That’s a very different picture than what we’re seeing right now,” he said.
Evans said health officials recognize people were adversely affected by the pandemic, adding he understands a move back to masking could be difficult for some.
He said the most common question he’s fielding from colleagues right now is, “How long is this going to go on for?”
The short answer is, it’s tough to know, said the infectious disease expert.
However, he added, there are signs from other countries like the U.S. and Denmark, which also saw a recent rise in COVID-19, that their case numbers may be starting to drop.
“The rise could go on for a while through the fall, but there’s also an expectation we may be at peak and if that’s the case, it may drop off in the next few weeks,” Evans said.
The changes at KHSC don’t affect its family or visitor policy, which currently allows two people to be at a patient’s bedside at any time.
But both hospital systems said more COVID-19 prevention measures could be reintroduced if indicators of the virus continue to rise.