CDC’s mask guidelines change for healthcare facilities doesn’t protect patients – Chicago Tribune


The recent change in masking guidelines made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allows healthcare facilities to end masking in clinical settings. These guidelines fall short of the mark and do not protect patients.

While the guidance directs that facilities continue to mask where immunocompromised patients may be present, it does not specify how a facility may implement such a policy. The message that masks are no longer needed in healthcare reinforces the notion that mask-free care is now “safe”. But doctors and patients are well aware that immunocompromised and other vulnerable individuals mingle with other patients and staff in every waiting room and care area. Risk is far from black and white.

As doctors – two of us are immunocompromised – who have worked throughout the pandemic, we know that masking is not too difficult, too inconvenient or too inconvenient to protect our patients.

The CDC’s guidance implies that going back to the “pre-COVID-19” path is the way to go. On the contrary, we strive to always learn and update guidelines based on updated scientific knowledge. We should implement new healthcare strategies as our understanding of science and evidence grows. When doctors learned that washing hands protects patients, it became the standard of care. There was a time when sterile gloves and surgical equipment were not the norm in the operating room.

While masks can make communication and facial expressions difficult, and some patients do better with unmasked providers, most of the care we provide can easily be performed more safely with the masks on. Not only for the immunocompromised, but also for all patients who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 and suffering from COVID-19 for a long time, a disease we still have a lot to learn about. We should clarify when patients benefit from care without masks instead of trying to take off our masks out of nostalgia, a need for comfort or political expediency.

Many medical centers and doctor’s offices have already opted to maintain masking in clinical areas, including here in Chicago. Next time you visit one, you will be asked to wear a mask to minimize transmission of COVID-19.

To those receiving or providing medical care who are suddenly missing masking, we encourage you to push for universal masking to protect you, your health and the health of your community.

— dr Shikha Jain, Dr. Seth Trueger and Dr. Emily Landon, Chicago

As a hospice chaplain in the community for almost 30 years, I often have the task of finding mental health professionals in the community for others. I ran for local government to give our community a voice in healthcare and human service. In Illinois, it is extremely difficult for people living with mental health and substance use problems or developmental and intellectual disabilities to get the therapeutic help they need. Unfortunately, there is a drastic lack of available services and excessive wait times for services, even for people who can pay privately.

Emergency department visits for people experiencing a mental health crisis or suffering from a drug overdose are at an all-time high. Our public schools provide excellent support for people with developmental disabilities, but they age at 22 and typically wait several years to receive benefits from the state.

The good news is that we can help improve mental health services in our communities. November’s general election will see referendums in several townships to create local mental health councils, known as 708 boards. These authorities have a small tax authority, subject to approval by the local council. The funds they generate are used to provide additional funding for more mental health services that remain in the local community.

For most homeowners, the additional tax is roughly equivalent to the cost of a large pizza — a small amount that pays off to expand much-needed services.

I believe that when we take care of our most vulnerable neighbors, we all benefit as a community.

I ask everyone to vote yes.

— Reverend Nicolle Grasse, Trustee, Arlington Heights Village Board

My father, James A. Serritella, passed away in April 2021. Prior to his death, my father served as the chief outside legal counsel to the Archdiocese of Chicago for half a century. Since the 1980s, much of his work has focused on the clergy sex abuse crisis, an issue on which he has become a national, if not international, leader.

I was encouraged to see John O’Malley’s op-ed on the Archdiocese of Chicago’s decade-long approach to implementing child protection policies (“Chicago Archdiocese’s 3 Decades of Taking Action Against Sex Abuse,” Oct. 16). I believe my father was the driving force behind most of the most innovative strategies that attempted to bring justice and healing to victims.

Throughout his life, my father has shared the same message: the need for compassion and doing what is right. He believed that the church’s response would be measured by the compassion it showed its victims, its fairness, and the effectiveness of its service to the community.

Below is an excerpt from some of his writings:

“The most difficult professional challenge I have faced in my 50-year legal career is the Catholic Church’s clergy sex abuse crisis. My educational background was primarily a humanities background, which helped me to look at issues that presented themselves as legal but went well beyond the law from a broader perspective.

“Against this background, we advocated a different approach. I thought that good priests and other ministers should address the problem by tending to the injured and trying to help them. I thought it would be better to spend money to solve the problems of the injured than to have lawyers put up every possible defense and not care about the injury caused by the abuse. The church should address the problem by having its own pastorally sensitive staff tending to the injured and trying to help them. In other words, we represent a church, and the church acts best when it acts as a church.

“When we look back at everything we’ve done to address the problem, we’re sometimes disappointed that the public doesn’t recognize those efforts. Here in Chicago, we started tackling the problem early and have made creative, sustained, and effective efforts for many years. Even so, it will likely take decades or more for the damage done here to be undone and healed.”

—James A. Serritella, Chicago

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