CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa hospital employees to don masks under shields to prevent coronavirus spread

UIHC issues call for donated cloth masks

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics uses face shields, like the ones shown here, to further protect hospital staff
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics uses face shields, like the ones shown here, to further protect hospital staff from the spread of COVID-19. (submitted photo).

IOWA CITY — As its coronavirus inpatient needs continue to expand and more employees test positive for COVID-19, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on Tuesday issued new personal protective equipment guidance and asked for more community help — in the form of donated cloth masks.

UIHC workers who have face-to-face contact with patients are now expected to wear medical-grade face masks under their face shields “as an added level of prevention for asymptomatic spread.”

The updated UIHC guidance follows recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

UIHC employees who don’t have direct patient contact can wear their own cloth masks under their required face shields.

“It’s also important to note that face shields are your primary protection against droplet and contact spread and should continue to be worn at all times,” according to the new UIHC guidance issued Tuesday. “They have several advantages over masks, such as protection for the eyes, nose and mouth; protection of your mask against contamination; and prevention of touching of the face.”

The shields also can be cleaned, disinfected and reused, “so will continue to provide protection if critical mask shortages continue.”

As of Monday, UIHC was treating 34 COVID-19 inpatients, for a total of 95 to date. It has had 68 employees test positive for COVID-19 so far, including two new cases Monday.

That 68 tally is out of about 15,000 UIHC employees — a rate of about 0.5 percent.

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For those employees who come within 6 feet of patients, medical-grade masks will be made available and should be worn in conjunction with the shields.

“A single mask should be worn all day, and in certain circumstances can be worn more than one day,” according to the new guidance. “Discard the mask only when soiled, damaged or hard to breathe through.”

The mask conservation efforts are a preventive measure, as UIHC anticipates its COVID-19 needs will persist and continue to grow.

The university is seeking donated medical-grade masks and protective face shields, which must be lightweight and adjustable “to fit securely to the user’s head, with a shield area that extends below the chin.”

Also, the new UIHC mandates could change, depending on the availability of medical-grade masks.

“We will closely monitor the supply of these masks and may need to convert to cloth masks for all employees and patients if we reach a critical shortage or are rapidly depleting the supply of these masks during the COVID-19 surge,” according to the UIHC guidance. “We strongly encourage you to conserve these masks.”

SEWING CLOTH MASKS

More cloth-mask guidance for employees without patient contact is coming — including how to get them if employees don’t have their own.

“We know some people who sew have been eager to help,” UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said in a Tuesday statement. “So we’re now taking donations of face masks that follow the guidance and patterns identified by our leadership.”

That guidance restricts donations to items from smoke-free, dust-free, pet-free and illness-free environments.

All masks must be made from new material cleaned with scent-free detergent. The items must be stored and delivered in non-scented, new plastic bags, according to UIHC guidance.

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Community seamstresses also can make caps and hair coverings to provide comfort for staff when wearing their face shield.

How to donate

Complete a donation form at uihc.org/kind-donations and bring a copy with your donation. Follow one of two patterns: Olson Mask or Pleated mask.

Donated items are accepted outside the UI Hospitals & Clinics main entrance from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Call Concierge Services at (319) 356-1900 or (319) 678-5500 to schedule a donation drop-off. UIHC staff will meet donors at their vehicles. Do not enter the hospital’s main entrance.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.