If a visitor does not wear a mask when in a patient’s room with a VUMC employee, is the employee protected from COVID-19, which the visitor may be asymptomatically shedding?

Yes. VUMC employees who enter a patient’s room with someone who is not wearing a mask are protected if they are following VUMC guidance: wearing a surgical mask, wearing eye protection, and practicing hand hygiene. Surgical masks protect against droplets being shed by the person wearing the mask AND against breathing in droplets shed by someone else. As a reminder, for other serious infections spread by droplets, such as contagious meningitis, health care personnel have depended on surgical masks for personal protection for years, even when the contagious patient is not wearing a mask.

VUMC policy requires all people to wear masks (unless exempted by medical condition or age <2 years). VUMC employees should ask visitors in the room to please put their mask on while in the room caring for the patient. Here is some suggested language for how to address it with a patient or visitor:

  • Don’t forget to put on your mask. It’s one of the best things we can do to keep ourselves and others safe.
  • I see that you’re not wearing your mask. Can you please put one on?
  • Because we are a hospital and there are a lot of sick people here, we ask you to wear a mask to protect our patients, families and staff.
  • If they continue to refuse (get your supervisor or manager involved)
    • I can understand your view of not wearing one, but this is for everyone’s safety and our organization’s policy.