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University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics drops mask requirement
Hospital warns staff not to ask patients or colleagues to wear masks under new rules
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics this week stopped requiring patients and health care providers to wear masks.
The announcement came just a few days short of the third anniversary of the first COVID-19 hospitalization at UIHC on March 11, 2020.
Face masks now are optional in all UIHC facilities, including Iowa River Landing and QuickCare clinics, except for people who have symptoms of a respiratory virus or unvaccinated employees.
Face masks still will be required in places like the operating room or when patients are at risk of infection — which are pre-pandemic standards.
The decision to stop requiring masks as of March 8 reflects the decrease in COVID-19 cases and other respiratory illnesses in the community, the UI reported. Vaccination and natural immunity from prior infection also have blunted the severity of the disease for many people.
Masks are welcome for anyone who chooses to wear one, but UIHC administration warned caregivers not to ask patients or colleagues to wear them.
“Questions and comments about mask wearing are strongly discouraged,” UIHC responded to a list of frequently asked questions. “Members of the university community are expected to be respectful of one another’s personal decisions. Whether or not to wear a mask is a personal decision that each person must make for themselves and for their own reasons.”
Wearing or not wearing a mask has become something of a political statement in addition to a means of reducing infection.
In May 2021, Gov. Kim Reynolds prohibited schools from requiring masks. A federal judge in November said districts must also accommodate vulnerable students and staff who wanted people to wear masks around them.
Gazette columnist Althea Cole reported last week she was escorted out of a UIHC facility Feb. 28 for refusing to wear a mask or face shield. Cole said she had a letter from her primary care provider saying her health issues prevent her from tolerating a face covering.
The UIHC said the March 8 announcement to no longer require masks was in the works well before Cole’s experience at Iowa River Landing.
But the incident emphasizes tension that has existed at health care facilities, stores and other places that have required face masks or even just public places where people disagree about mask use.
Masking rules at Corridor hospitals have fluctuated at Cedar Rapids hospitals since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mercy Medical Center relaxed mask requirements in October, only to join UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital in temporarily reinstating the rules in December when cases of COVID and other respiratory viruses were on the rise.
The Gazette asked UIHC whether there was a specific infection rate or COVID metric they used when deciding when to stop requiring masks, but the hospital staff did not provide that information by Friday afternoon.
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