With a one-two punch, the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tossed tens of millions of Americans at high risk of death and disability from COVID-19 into a sea of contagion without any clear guidance for infection prevention and control.
After President Joe Biden’s thoughtless remark that “the pandemic is over,” the CDC announced days later a quiet undermining of COVID-19 protections in hospitals and nursing homes: the end of universal masking recommendations for health care settings. Ordinary Americans who cannot afford to be ill — and that is truly tens of millions of us — now have to appeal directly to America’s working medical professionals:
Please make your medical offices safe for us to enter by using N95 masks and top-rated HEPA air filtration. Too many of us are at risk to become severely ill, develop chronic illness or die if we catch COVID-19, even if we are newly boosted. Just as importantly, many of us are the sole caretaker for someone else, people who depend on us for their everyday needs. We are desperate to avoid getting sick for their protection as well as our own. And the reality is that health care providers, run ragged after the last three years, can’t afford to get sick either.
Crucially, we cannot let infectious air be so prevalent that people delay going to a hospital in an emergency because they fear catching COVID-19 there. We should not expose caretaking relatives to COVID-19 when they bring their loved ones in for care. When people need surgery or give birth, followed by days of hospital recovery, they deserve to be safe from infection.
I am speaking directly to our doctors, dentists, nurses, specialists of every kind, all our providers of routine and critical care: In the absence of any backup from government officials, we need your help now. We need to be able to come into your offices for the checkups you always nagged us to keep up with — and we want to get. As your patients, we need a professional commitment from you to practice good infection control.
If you cannot see your way to having everyone inside your office, staff and patients alike, to wear an N95 or equivalent mask all day, please at least create some hours every week when that is the rule for everyone — a required masking portion of the day. Offer this as an option when patients call to make an appointment.
Medical examining rooms and waiting rooms are often windowless. To support masking efforts, get HEPA filters, which are affordable for offices and effective at capturing COVID-19 particles from the air.
To all the medical professionals who already do these safe practices, please prominently display your professionalism on your websites and other advertising. Featuring terms like “HEPA-filtered office,” “N95 masks required” or “COVID-safe hours” in your offerings will make it much easier to find you with an online search. Many of us are looking to resume regular cancer screenings, get eyeglasses, a hearing test or EKG or, unfortunately, find a new primary care doctor.
And if you understand how much we value our health, if you are among the medical professionals who have been grieving over the nation’s pandemic failures, if you remain committed to preventing infections, please work with colleagues inside your prestigious professional associations to promote clear and effective infection control standards. Your patients can’t do this. The CDC made clear it no longer will. But we hope you can.
I know that too many of America’s health care professionals will not want to cooperate. There are some who believe COVID-19 is over, or that it’s a “hoax” or worse, that the disabled and elderly should be willing to accept an accelerated death — this despite the oaths doctors took to do no harm.
But we need as many health care professionals on our side as possible. If we must “learn to live with COVID,” let’s do it intelligently. We can and must keep the air clean inside all medical settings to protect newborns and their mothers, the elderly, cancer and dialysis patients, the post-surgery teenager struggling with orthopedic implants after a motorcycle accident. Everyone at some point needs good care.
Please help us and our families safely access your professional care. We can’t let American medical standards drop so low that our hospitals and clinics become the places where we get sick rather than well.
Kathleen Quinn is a retired journalist.