HOUSTON — For the first time since the pandemic began, a major Houston hospital is relaxing its mask policy.
According to Houston Methodist Hospital, patients and staff no longer need to wear masks inside some of its public spaces. The hospital changed its policy on April 4.
“It’s time to adjust with the times,” explained Firas Zabaneh, the head of infection control at Houston Methodist.
“We did a risk assessment on, where do we really need masking and where can we drop masking requirements?” Zabaneh said.
The assessment included factors like hospitalizations, community transmission and positivity rates. Based on those assessments, the hospital decided mask requirements could be dropped in some public spaces like reception areas, hallways, cafeterias and administrative spaces.
Masks are still required for staff while caring for patients and in doctor’s waiting rooms. Patients are “highly encouraged” to wear them there too.
According to Zabaneh, many of the hospital staff have been pushing for a relaxed policy.
“Staff burnout, nationally, has been an issue. And we felt that it is time for us to ease some of that burden on them and allow them some breathing space. Especially during this time of low transmission.”
Airlines could drop mask requirements soon too. The current mandate is set to expire on April 18. This week, the White House said President Biden still hasn’t decided whether he’ll extend it.
However, Catherine Troisi, Ph.D., an infectious disease epidemiologist with UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston, said that with COVID cases rising in nearly half of US states, now is not the time to relax mask policies
“I do think it’s too soon to do away with mask mandates,” said Troisi.
“Pandemics end one of two ways; either the virus or whatever goes away, or we just pretend it has and go back to life as it was before the pandemic… we’re headed that way. I would love to be able to tell you that the pandemic is over but it’s not.”
Houston Methodist says if needed, they’re ready to pivot and tighten its mask policies again.