Jana Watts, MD, is a family medicine specialist and Regional Medical Director of Mission Health Community Medicine.

Since COVID-19 is dynamic and ever-changing, the protocols in place for patients who visit Mission Health primary care and specialty care clinics are routinely updated, as more patients are accessing care via in-person visits and scheduling non-emergency surgery. The health system’s new masking policy reflects the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the preeminent source of sound knowledge for preventing and treating the virus.

Jana Watts, MD, family medicine specialist and Regional Medical Director of Mission Health Community Medicine, shares vital information on Mission Health’s systemwide masking protocol and explains why it was instituted.

Telemedicine is used for routine care far more often now, but sometimes a patient must see their doctor in person.

Yes, with the advent of COVID-19, we’ve greatly increased the use of telemedicine – consulting with patients over the phone or via teleconference. However, if someone is experiencing severe symptoms – whether from COVID-19 or some other illness – they must be treated in person. The same is true for those needing routine care for chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Why is wearing a mask important now?

Masks are key to preventing the spread of COVID-19. We know the virus is spread through droplets, so if you sneeze, cough or even talk, many droplets are released into the air, which significantly increases the chances of passing COVID-19 on to someone you’re sharing space with. A mask effectively captures these droplets and contains them, preventing them from being released.

Who is required to wear a mask to their doctor’s appointment?

When a patient schedules an appointment, we ask a series of “First Point of Contact” questions to determine whether they’re experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, such as shortness of breath or chills. If they answer “yes” to a single screening question, they must wear a mask for the duration of their office visit. If the patient doesn’t have a mask of their own, or the mask they wore isn’t considered properly protective, we will provide them with one. We’re also seating patients who screen positive for the virus in a different waiting area, away from other patients.

Are clinic staff required to wear a mask at all times?

Yes, currently any employee who works in an outpatient setting must wear a mask.

What makes a mask properly protective?

A mask is considered sufficiently protective if it’s made from closely knit cloth and snugly covers your entire nose and mouth area, for example. Anything with a loose weave isn’t effective, and neither are bandanas, tee-shirts or scarves. But, many of the homemade ones we’re seeing, as well as masks you can buy online, are acceptable. If you don’t have a mask that effectively prevents infection spread, we give you what’s known as a “Level 1” mask, commonly used in medical settings.

What about people who have no COVID-19 symptoms?

We encourage even our patients who aren’t showing any signs of illness to wear a mask to their appointment.

Why do you urge every patient to wear a mask, even if they’re not feeling sick?

We do this because we know that a person can be completely asymptomatic, yet also be shedding the virus before they feel ill. This measure increases safety for our patients and staff members, as well as for patients who are immunocompromised, such as someone receiving chemotherapy or who live with an underlying condition.

Why do you ask that people wear their own masks to appointments if you can provide one?

Although we can provide you with a mask if you don’t have your own, we continue our efforts to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) so our staff members can use it when providing care.

Any other recommendations or reminders regarding the importance of masks during this time?

Wearing a mask when you go out helps protect other frontline workers you have contact with, like grocery store employees. In combination with frequent handwashing and not touching your face, wearing a mask can do much to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community. I also want to remind people not to hesitate visiting their doctor if they need to; our clinics are some of the cleanest, safest places you can be right now.

Jana Watts, MD, is a family medicine specialist and Regional Medical Director of Mission Health Community Medicine. Call 828-213-3222 to find the Mission primary care doctor who is best for you.

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