I’m asking for your help again in our ongoing battle with COVID-19 and the assistance you can provide by wearing a cloth mask. We are seeing an increased incidence of COVID-19 infections in Nashville and across Tennessee since we have relaxed the Safer at Home initiative. We are also seeing increasing numbers of COVID positive patients at our own evaluation locations.
Also, after two months of relative stability, during the past week the number of COVID-19 positive patients being cared for in our hospitals has increased by approximately 30%. An increasing proportion of these patients, about one-third, are very seriously ill and require ventilator support.
To prevent dramatic increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations taxing intensive care capacity, we must remain vigilant. Our best tools today to combat the virus continue to be physical distancing, appropriate hand hygiene and consistently wearing masks.
For our campus, on May 1 we issued a requirement for all VUMC personnel, patients and visitors to wear masks when in clinical and public areas. The rationale for universal masking is based on evidence that wearing a cloth mask helps prevent spread of the virus from those who are early in an infection and/or who may be asymptomatic. “People need to know that wearing masks can reduce transmission of the virus by as much as 50%, and those who refuse are putting their lives, their families, their friends, and their communities at risk,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. And if both people are wearing a mask, the transmission rate drops even further. Our own Infectious Diseases experts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others endorse the use of cloth masks in public settings to prevent the spread of the virus.
It’s our responsibility to keep each other and our patients safe. It is also important in the community to keep each other safe. In fact, the safety measures described also help the reopening of the economy. In addition to hand-washing and maintaining appropriate physical distancing, please wear a mask. Wearing a mask here on campus and out in our community will protect you and prevent the spread of the virus to those who may be vulnerable.
Here, if you encounter a colleague who isn’t masked, please ask them to put one on, pointing out, “it is in both of our best interest.” And if you are approached by a colleague with a reminder about masking, the appropriate response is a simple “thank you” and put a mask on.
As Dr. Balser said in one of his recent messages, wearing a mask is a selfless act. Doing so demonstrates leadership and says to others that we care enough to do everything we can to protect them.
C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD
Deputy CEO and Chief Health System Officer