The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent masking guideline change allows healthcare facilities to end masking in clinical settings. This guidance misses the mark and fails to protect patients.
Although the guidance instructs facilities to continue masking where there may be immunocompromised patients, it does not specify how a facility might implement such a policy. The message that masks are no longer needed in healthcare reinforces the idea that care is now “safe” without masks. But doctors and patients know all too well that immunocompromised and other vulnerable individuals mingle with other patients and staff in every waiting room and care setting. Risk is far from black and white.
As doctors — two of us are immunocompromised — who have worked during the pandemic, we know that masking is not too challenging, too uncomfortable, or too inconvenient to protect our patients.
CDC guidance suggests that a return to “pre-COVID-19” ways is the way to go. On the contrary, we strive to always learn and update policies based on updated scientific findings. We need to implement new strategies in health care as our understanding of science and evidence builds. When doctors learned that hand washing protected patients, it became the standard of care. There was a time when sterile gloves and surgical equipment in operating rooms were not the norm.
Although masks can make communication and facial expression challenging, and some patients may do better with unmasked providers, most of the care we provide can easily be done more safely with masks. Not just for the immunocompromised, but for all patients who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing persistent COVID-19, a disease we still have a lot to learn about. We need to understand when unmasked care benefits patients, rather than trying to shed our masks out of nostalgia, comfort, or political expediency.
Many medical centers and doctor’s offices have already chosen to maintain masking in clinical areas, including here in Chicago. The next time you visit one, they will ask you to wear a mask to minimize the transmission of COVID-19.
To those receiving or providing health care when masking is suddenly lacking, we encourage you to push for universal masking to protect you, your health, and the health of your community.
— Shikha Jain, MD, Seth Trueger, MD, and Emily Landon, MD, Chicago
As a community hospice chaplain for almost 30 years, I am often tasked with finding community mental health professionals for others. I ran for local government to bring a voice to health and human services in our community. In Illinois, it is extremely difficult for people living with mental health and substance use problems or with developmental and intellectual disabilities to get the therapeutic help they need. Unfortunately, there is a drastic shortage of available services and excessive waiting times for services, even for people who can pay privately.
Emergency room visits by people in mental health crisis or drug overdose are at an all-time high. Our public schools provide exceptional support for people with developmental disabilities, but they age out at 22 and typically wait several years to receive services from the state.
The good news is that we can help increase mental health services in our communities. In the November general election, there will be referendums on the ballot in several municipalities to create community mental health councils, known as 708 councils. These councils have a small taxing authority which is subject to approval by the local council. The funds they generate are used to provide additional funding for more mental health services that remain within the local city.
For most homeowners, the additional tax will be about the price of a large pizza — a small amount that pays for the expansion of much-needed services.
I believe we all benefit as a community when we care for our most vulnerable neighbors.
Please everyone vote yes.
— The Rev. Nicole Grass, Trustee, Arlington Heights Village Council
My father, James A. Cerritella, passed away in April 2021. Half a century before his death, my father was the Chief External Legal Counsel for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Since the 1980s, much of his work has focused on the clergy sexual abuse crisis, an issue on which he has become a national, if not international, leader.
I was thrilled to see John O’Malley’s article about the Archdiocese of Chicago’s decade-long approach to implementing policies that try to protect children (“3 Decades of Action by Archdiocese of Chicago Against Sexual Abuse,” October 16). I believe my father was the driving force behind many of the most innovative policies that sought to bring justice and healing to victims.
Throughout his life, my father advocated the same message over and over again: the need for compassion and doing the right thing. He believed that the church’s response would be measured by the compassion it showed to its victims, its justice, and the effectiveness of its outreach to the community.
Below is an excerpt from some of his writings:
“The most difficult professional challenge I have faced in my half-century legal career has been the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. My education was primarily in the humanities, which helped me gain a broader perspective on issues that presented themselves as legal but had ramifications that went beyond the law.
“With this in mind, we advocated a different approach. I thought that good priests and other pastoral workers should deal with the problem by reaching out to the wounded and trying to help them. I thought it would be preferable to spend money on solving the problems of victims rather than spending it on lawyers who collect every possible defense and fail to deal with the pain caused by the abuse. The church must address the problem by having its own pastorally sensitive staff to reach out to the wounded and try to help them. In other words, we represent the church, and the church functions best when it functions as a church.
“Looking back at everything we’ve done to tackle the problem, we sometimes feel frustrated because those efforts go unrecognized on the public stage. Here in Chicago, we started tackling the problem early and have continued creative, sustained and effective efforts for many years. Nevertheless, even the damage done here will likely take decades or more to overcome and heal.
— James A. Serritella, Chicago
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