Maryland Department of Health Advises Masking Due to Rise in Respiratory Virus Hospitalizations, Many Major Hospitals Have Not Updated Policies

BALTIMORE – An increase in hospitalizations due to respiratory viruses has triggered Maryland Health Department (MDH) guidance for universal mask use in healthcare settings.

On the week of Dec. 11, respiratory virus-associated hospitalizations hit a level of 12.9 per 100,000 residents in the state of Maryland.

According to Department of Health guidance, “broad facility-wide source control [i.e. respirator use] should be implemented in all patient care areas and patient-facing healthcare settings, including outpatient and long term care, when the statewide combined weekly respiratory virus-associated hospitalization rate (as calculated by CDC​) meets or exceeds 10 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents.”

Despite this change in guidance, many major hospitals have not updated their masking policies.

“The CDC has warned that there could be a serious strain on healthcare capacity by the end of December,” shared retired epidemiologist, Roselie Bright, ScD. “Respiratory diseases — including COVID, RSV, and flu — are surging again all over the world, including in Maryland. It is very important that everyone in healthcare settings — including staff, patients, and visitors — wears a well-fitted respirator (a mask that is N95 quality or higher) to help stop the spread.”

Since the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency this spring, major hospital systems in Maryland dismantled masking and respirator protections. A local volunteer group, COVID Safe Maryland, advocates for policies to protect patients’, workers’ and their communities’ health from preventable COVID exposure.

“People who are already ill with something else are more sensitive to getting sick from any added infection.” Dr. Bright, who is also a COVID Safe Maryland member, explained. “About half of the people who spread COVID didn’t even know they were spreading because they had no symptoms and therefore didn’t test. This is why we need universal source control year-round, just like we already expect for hand hygiene.”

COVID Safe Maryland is urging every healthcare system in Maryland to reinstate universal respirator use immediately.

COVID Safe Maryland is a volunteer group of Marylanders working to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in our state. We organize for action to reduce transmission, support people experiencing Long COVID, and remember those who have died from COVID. We advocate because COVID policies that promote unmitigated spread force many of us out of public life and put all of us at risk. We believe that everyone deserves the right to safely access essential spaces such as healthcare offices and public transit.