The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

UI Health Care implements temporary mask requirements in some hospital units

As respiratory illnesses and infections continue to rise, UIHC is taking precautions to ensure the safety of its patients, visitors, and employees.
The+University+of+Iowa+Stead+Family+Childrens+Hospital+is+seen+on+Tuesday%2C+Jan.+23%2C+2024.
Jordan Barry
The University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital is seen on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.

Amid respiratory virus season, University of Iowa Health Care is temporarily requiring masks inside facilities for certain patient populations.

As of Jan. 11, UIHC asked employees, visitors, and patients currently undergoing treatment at the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital to wear masks.

Additionally, masks must be worn within all units of the Children and Women’s Services, the adult Gynecology and Postpartum Newborn unit, and Labor and Delivery.

The Adult Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant Program, located in the Stem Cell Transplant and Cellular Therapies unit, now requires masks as well.

Derek Zhorne, associate chief medical officer of UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, said the Infection Prevention, or the Hospital Epidemiology Program, has been tracking the levels of respiratory infections, leading to the implementation of these masks for patients and visitors.

Karen Brust, UIHC infectious disease specialist and clinical associate professor of epidemiology, said many community members may already see the signs of an uptick of illnesses in their own social circles.

“From a more data-driven perspective, we’ll look at how influenza-like illnesses increase with respect to outpatient visits, emergency department visits, and we look at hospitalization data,” Brust said.

According to the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, the state has seen a 15.8 percent positive number of cases of influenza as of Jan. 5, and a 14.6 percent positive number of cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

Brust said national trends can offer an opportunity to forecast which virus strains are most prevalent, which age groups are most affected, and how effective the flu vaccine may be year to year.

“We made this decision so we can better protect our patients, staff, employees, and visitors,” Zhorne said.

Zhorne said a rise in pediatric respiratory illnesses is most common during the late fall throughout the winter season. RSV is particularly common in infants and pediatric patients, with children most likely being seen for the illness in the months of October through March.

Patients and visitors of these units are required to wear face masks and face masks are readily available in these areas, Zhorne said. For those in or visiting other units at UIHC, individuals are welcome to use masks, though it is not required within public spaces, such as the front entrance of the hospital, Zhorne said.

Temporary visitor restrictions were also implemented, Zhorne said. Visitors need to be ages 12 years old or older to visit pediatric patients and a limit of four unique visitors for hospital stays in both adult and pediatric inpatient units.

“These enhanced safety measures are put in place to help protect our youngest, most vulnerable patient populations and our visitors as well as staff,” Zhorne said.

The pediatric intensive care unit has also implemented these changes to protect the youngest and smallest patients at the hospital.

RELATED: JoCo health officials recommend getting vaccinated for flu season

Brust said the best way to get through respiratory virus season without getting sick is by utilizing different forms of protection.

“First and most importantly, get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19 — and RSV for certain eligible populations,” Brust said.

Zhorne said these changes are not intended to be permanent, and these measures will change as the number of respiratory infections has declined.

“Having lived through this has made this easier for people to understand and appreciate the concept of face-masking and things of that nature,” Zhorne said.

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About the Contributor
Shreya Reddy, News Reporter
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Shreya Reddy is a freshman at the University of Iowa. Coming from a small town in Kansas, Shreya is double majoring in English and Political Science on the Pre-Law track. Before coming to the Daily Iowan, she has written for her neighborhood magazine and her schools literary magazine as well as writing an investigative journalism piece.