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Northern New York hospital reinstates mandatory universal masking

University of Vermont Health Network CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh
Pat Bradley
University of Vermont Health Network CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh (file)

The University of Vermont Health Network-Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh has returned to mandatory masking.

The CVPH Medical Center is requiring all patients and visitors to wear masks after a rise in COVID-19 infection rates in the region and within the hospital. Associate Chief Nursing Officer Carlyn Haag says they are trying to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“We’re seeing a significant increase. We’ve experienced an increased number of COVID admissions, emergency visits and employees out of work after testing positive for the virus. In terms of numbers of the employees out of work we’re near to the peak level of COVID and the number of COVID admissions varies.”

Although the hospital is part of a hospital network in Northern New York and Vermont, Haag says the universal masking mandate is applicable only at the Plattsburgh facility.

“At this point it’s only for Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital and it’s in response to the monitoring of the trends that developing in our region, in our community and what we’re seeing in the hospital.”

A new variant of COVID BA.2.86 was first detected in Europe and in the beginning of September turned up in Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and New York. Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Keith Collins says they don’t have a way to test locally if the cases circulating are the new variant of COVID, but he suspects it is.

“It’s been circulating in other countries. It’s here in the U.S. and it’s becoming the predominant variant. As far as it making people any sicker, I don’t think that’s the case. But this new variant is supposed to be more contagious than the original Omicron. And if that is what’s circulating that could explain a lot of it because we see a lot more people coming into the hospital now testing positive. We have more admissions for COVID itself. And I think it just speaks to the fact that regardless of whether it’s a new variant or not, now that we’re getting into the fall and winter people are coming inside, and it’s really, I think, increasing the risk that people are going to transmit it again. And we’re going to see that reflected in hospital admissions and that sort of thing.”

This is a time of year when colds and flu are also prevalent. Collins cautions that the only way to determine if someone has COVID is to test.

“Especially with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and influenza season you really can’t tell any of the three of them apart. And even the common cold, COVID can look like the common cold. So really it does come down to testing. It really does. I wish that there was a set of symptoms I could say oh yeah that’s COVID. Most of it is upper respiratory or lower respiratory, the usual things you think about, fever and cough or they have a runny nose or they have a sore throat or some combination of those things. And that’s just like any respiratory infection. Unfortunately, the symptoms are very, very similar and you can’t tell them apart by symptoms.”

Dr. Collins says while he doesn’t expect the infection rate to be as high as the peak of the pandemic, he anticipates a surge during the winter.

“Just like we do with flu season we’re going to be seeing a real upsurge probably before the winter’s over with people being admitted with COVID. The best thing we can do to prevent that is get the vaccines as soon as we can get them for both the flu and COVID. And there’s one now for RSV in certain situations that would also help. The biggest defense we have are vaccinations. And then people having some common sense about knowing when they’re sick, not to try to be around others and wear a mask when they’re sick. Both masking and vaccines are still so important. Yes it helps you but it also going to help someone else who may not have the same immune system and the reserves that you have to prevent them from getting really sick.”

The hospital will monitor trends to determine when to lift its universal masking requirement.

Masks are available at the hospital entrance.