Not Halloween: UVA hospital makes masks mandatory

news-laura-burnsThe look favored by one woman when she fled Mexico in the spring will soon become de rigueur among unvaccinated UVA hospital staffers.

As the flu season draws closer, UVA Medical Center is providing an added impetus to its employees who can't or won't get a flu shot: Mandatory masks.

Chief Medical Officer Jonathon Truwit informs his colleagues of the unusual new requirement in a September 14 email: "Staff or faculty who are unable to or choose not to receive the seasonal flu vaccine will be required to wear masks throughout the work day/shift when the flu season arrives."

So much for frequent hand-washing.

Those who do get the flu shot not only get to show their face in the hospital, they also get a blue sticker stamped "2009" to sport on their name badge.

The reason for the heavy pressure to get a shot or wear a mask, explains Truwit, is that it's possible to be sick and spread influenza viruses like H1N1 before feeling sick. He expects 7,500 Medical Center employees to take the shot.

"Historically, we have high but not complete compliance with flu vaccination," Truwit writes in an email. "Our goal is to enhance vaccination rates, not mask use."

And those who don't get the shot must wear the hospital's equivalent of the scarlet letter of shame.

"A minority is not happy with using the mask as an alternative," concedes Truwit.

Over at the Thomas Jefferson Health District, epidemiologist Elizabeth Davies expressed suprise– but not shock– over the hospital's latest policy.

"Health care workers are a vulnerable population," she points out. "They're the ones on the frontline seeing sick patients. It's important to protect them–- and the patients."

By the way, the state is no longer counting cases of swine flu. "It doesn't serve a point to do case counting when you know it's in the community," Davies says.

Although Truwit's directive pretty clearly says the unvaccinated must be masked throughout their shifts, he offers further clarification of the policy in a September 16 email to the Hook: "Masks will be used by unvaccinated employees when delivering patient care, not all day."

That same day, another Truwit email to employees specifies that during flu season, those who have contact "within 6 feet of patients for at least 60 seconds" must don masks.

In that case, it sounds like lunch will be much easier to eat.

Updated September 21, 2009


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I'd like to clarify some things that the article did not. First of all, the required vaccine is for the regular flu, not the swine flu. The swine flu vaccine is not available yet and, thus far, is not required for employees when it does become available. Also, the masks only become required when it is determined that the flu is widespread in the community, employees will not have to wear them constantly from September through April, only when the outbreak is severe enough. To the person who asked whether UVA will be able to recover losses from employees who suffer from Guillain-Barre, we're all asked about this VERY RARE condition before we receive the shot so don't hold your breath waiting for that epidemic to start.
Speaking on behalf of most medical center employees, I'm fine with this policy. I think having to wear a mask or get a flu shot is a small price to pay for your health and the health of your patients.

Truwit's rationale makes no sense. He says he's worried about the spread of H1N1, and that H1N1 is largely the impetus for this vaccination campaign--yet the required vaccine is for seasonal flu.

So how exactly is this mass vaccination campaign going to minimize the spread of H1N1? It isn't. In fact, either vaccine could have the effect of increasing rates of the "other" flu through a process known as strain replacement:

And yes, the mask is absolutely a scarlet letter. We know they don't work well to prevent transmission of the flu; Truwit even admits as much when he says they're not looking to have more people wearing masks, they're looking to push people into getting vaccinated. The mask is essentially a punishment, not a public health measure.

Guess what? Flu season is already here.

There's no proof that the H1N1 vaccine is actually going to provide some degree of temporary immunity. This is a new, experimental vaccine that has been rushed into production. So the "scarlet letter" of a mask should really be worn by all health care providers. And patients.

If it's such an effective measure, it should be extended to everybody.

Visitors/nonemployees should also be required to wear masks, as they will most certainly bring in the flu from the outside.

There are many cases of H1N1 that have NO FEVER.
Google 'swine flu no fever new york time' for story.

Additionally, somebody with the virus can continue to spread it for several more days than originally thought, according to latest data from CDC.

The WCDC will madate a lot more before this flu season is over. Like closing in school if too many kids get the virus, but the Medical Center is really hitting hard.

Health workers, especially doctors, ARE the ones who spread infections the most, just ask an infection control expert. MRSA, Diff C, etc. are spread by doctors going from patient to patient without washing their hands first. Doctors touch patients, most visitors do not. Also as long as they are working on infection control policies, why not require UVA employees to change clothes before they leave the hospital? Far too many come home in scrubs expoosing their families and even neighbors to hospital germs left on the scrubs.

Got infected, well then maybe it is time UVA provide inservice training for DRs. They can call the class "HANDWASHING 101".

Everyone's missing the point. Follow the money ... H1N1 is the impetus, but the regular flu shot is mandatory or "scarlet letter" mask? Try to trace the incentives and all the freebies pharmaceutical companies shell out and to whom do they go? Its a scare for money shell game ... The best way to become rich(er) is to create an absolute market demand for your un-competed against product. What better way to do that, than to drive up fear, create strong incentives (and in some cases, even a legal requirement) for your product which happens to be the only one (or one of a handful) on the market. Make them feel like they are doing "the responsible thing" by lining your pockets -- Its slick man! Just ask the parents of vaccine injured children, a.k.a. your local autism support groups.

Do employees not have privacy rights?

Honestly. Does HIPPA allow for this?

This is OUTRAGEOUS!!! next thing you know, those Nazis will require hand washing between patient contacts to check the spread of diseases. I hope the local "Tea Party" has the balls to speak up about these haters of the constitution!!!!!!!

It is unfair to single out employees in making them wear masks. Health care workers are much more careful than members of the general public in preventing the spread of disease. It looks to me freedoms are being challenged with a threat of punishment. Many I know are untrusting of the government rush to develop a vaccine too quickly. Therefore, they will not accept the vaccine.

Will they give me one of these for the next home game? I really find paper bags uncomfortable.

Why would parents stay home and babysit sick kids? That's what schools are for, the schools can babysit.

The "good" parents can go to work and make that almighty dollar.

And the "bad" parents can go out and sell drugs, buy beer and smoke crack all day long.

Whos actually infecting who? Flumist and most vaccines are LIVE which means they can infect, so I ask you again whos infecting who?

Gildy, your wording is unclear to me ("whether UVA will be able to recover losses from employees who suffer from Guillain-Barre") but the question isn't whether UVA will be able to staff the hospital due to employees sick with Guillain-Barre. The question is, if you get a life-threatening side effect from a mandated vaccine, who will help you? The government has declared immunity for itself and the vaccine manufacturers (the 2006 Pandemic Readiness and Preparation Act). The employee assumes all risk, and has no rights to refuse the vaccine if his job is on the line. Will UVA pay for your medical care (ie workman's comp) or lost wages? Some people never recover completely from Guillain-Barre, and some die.

I got the seasonal flu shot at UVA because I don't want to get the flu - and it was convenient and cheap. I will do the same for the swine flu vaccine. Although I work at the medical school, I have absolutely no patient contact (a lab guy). I did get my blue 2009 sticker, but do not plan on using it. Rather, I posted it up on my private bulletin board of stupid UVA stuff done to certain staff over the years.... (there has been a LOT!).

Will UVA Hospital cover the medical expenses of employees who get Guillain-Barre syndrome from the vaccine?

UVA seems to be pretty serious about this. Just had a close friend, a UVA nurse, stop by to visit. I teased her about not having her mask on. She said if they are caught performing their duties without a flu shot and without the therefore required mask, they are terminated.... on the spot, no questions asked.

She also spoke of one nurse who had a bad reaction to the flu shot last year and can't take the shots any longer.... so she has to wear a mask the entire flu season while performing her duties whether she likes it or not.

Such drastic measures, including widespread masking, should only be ordered by the state department of health. Perhaps all hospital staffs in the state should be held to the same standard.
While we're talking about the spread factor, last I heard, the schools were recommending students having the flu, only stay home a few days. The teachers I have spoken with tell me some parents refuse to keep the kids home. Instead, they load the kids up with Tylenol to hide a fever, and even bring them to school after they have vomited all night. The sick kids on the loose are spreading the flu all over town and the parents are jeopardizing the health of those who are more frail, including those in hospitals. Someone needs to call the inconsiderates down.

Just watched NBC nightly news, Brian Williams. A report with regard to Swine Flu indicated masks are not the answer. Check out the nbc website, and watch the video.
In addition, the report recommended the vaccine and pointed to the danger of catching the flu in the emergency room.

Unforunately, the general public is more irresponsible than health care workers when it comes to bringing illness into the hospital. However, absentee policies are so punitive at UVA, that health care workers cannot stay home and recover fully when feeling ill.

Can't employees understand this is all about CONTROL? Employees are bowing to a thug's threat. Rise up and do what you need to do to stop such a movement. For starters, UVA does not want to cough up the $ for substitutes, in the case of too many staying home sick. UVA has employees spinning by the tail as they know most workers will bend and get vaccinated in order to escape scrutiny, shame, and inconvenience in wearing masks for months. My guess, UVA is bringing on a "legal" issue here. Watch and see. UVA will be bucked, and rightfully so.

I would think a parent could be found liable if they allowed their child to knowingly spread swine flu. They are at least opening themselves up to the possiblity of a lawsuit. If a child dies, they should keep that in the back of their mind that lawyer will go after all the parent that allowed their kids to go in sick.