Regional healthcare organizations adopt guidelines for masking as respiratory virus season approaches 

Healthcare facilities in the region have joined together voluntarily to prioritize the health and safety of patients and employees by adopting interim thresholds for universal masking in hospitals and outpatient clinics.  

When thresholds are crossed, which indicates increased regional respiratory illness activity and impact, masking by staff and patients will be required in patient care areas for healthcare facilities participating in the agreement. 

Public Health – Seattle & King County joins other local health jurisdictions in fully supporting the data-informed decision by healthcare organizations to require masking in their facilities when thresholds for increased respiratory illness activity are reached.  

Masking is an effective way to reduce transmission of respiratory illness in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. These masking practices will help protect people in healthcare settings, particularly those who are at high risk such as older adults, those with chronic disease and immunocompromising conditions, pregnant people, infants, as well as those who experience inequities in health care.   

Regional healthcare organizations convened over several months to review data sources that indicate when transmission of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or COVID-19, are at increased levels in the community. As described by the organizations that have signed-on to the agreement, healthcare organizations will require masking when the first of the following thresholds is reached: 

These thresholds are the upper limit for participating organizations to institute universal masking in their facilities, and these organizations may choose to do it sooner based on their own decision making.  

The strategy will be evaluated and adjusted over time in order to achieve the greatest utility.

“Our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of masks as part of a layered approach to reducing risk and spread of these infections,” said Dr. Eric Chow, Chief of Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunization for Public Health – Seattle & King County. 

“By instituting universal masking in healthcare settings (especially when respiratory illness is increased in the community), hospitals and other healthcare facilities are prioritizing patient and healthcare worker safety, as they have done throughout the pandemic. Additionally, infections among healthcare workers threaten our capacity in an already strained healthcare system. These practices will help protect people in healthcare settings particularly those who are at high risk and those who experience inequities in health care.” 

Regional emergency department visit data will be published by participating public health agencies in Washington, including Public Health – Seattle & King County. King County respiratory illness data is available here.

More information about the joint agreement by regional healthcare facilities is available at the Northwest Healthcare Response Network.

Originally posted 9/26/23