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State’s top doctor asks hospitals, healthcare facilities to mask up

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(The Center Square) – The Illinois Department of Public Health wants hospitals, healthcare facilities and others to bring back face masks to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.

On Thursday, the agency advised healthcare facilities to step up mitigation efforts to minimize the spread of respiratory viruses. The department issued a health alert to hospitals, long-term care facilities, and local health departments outlining various mitigation measures such as the use of masking and screening, especially in places where more vulnerable patients are treated.

“With the alarming rise in respiratory viruses we are seeing across the state and the country, IDPH is recommending healthcare facilities take precautions to reduce the spread of these viruses and protect their patients, staffs and visitors,” IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said in a statement. “We are most concerned with healthcare facilities in counties with elevated respiratory virus transmission and hospitalization levels and recommend masking in patient care areas, especially in emergency departments and areas caring for patients who are immunocompromised.”

The alert comes as the number of COVID-19 cases increase across the state.

The number of counties listed at high level for COVID-19 hospitalizations doubled from five to ten Illinois counties in the center of the state including Sangamon, according to the CDC’s national COVID Data Tracker, as of the week ending Dec. 2. That means those counties have reported more than 20 COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 population in the last week. Another 41 counties are at medium level for COVID-19 hospitalizations during the period, with between 10 and 20 COVID hospitalizations per 100,000.

Statewide, 1,225 new COVID-19 hospitalizations were reported. That’s up 22% over the previous week. Flu and RSV cases also are on the rise.

“RSV is causing a heavy burden of pediatric hospitalizations and the percent of lab tests that are positive for RSV have been rising for 10 consecutive weeks,” according to the IDPH alert. “COVID-19 is causing the most hospitalizations among respiratory viruses, however hospitalizations are also rising steadily for flu and RSV. The percent of positive lab tests for flu and COVID-19 have been rising for three consecutive weeks.”

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