MENDOCINO CO., 12/6/23 — Mendocino County health workers are now required to wear surgical masks any time they might come in contact with patients during flu season this year. The county plans to renew this approach every winter, during flu season.
Last month, Mendocino County Public Health Officer Dr. Andrew Coren issued an order that covers many medical workers. The order Coren crafted does not apply to dental offices, medical offices separate from a hospital or clinic or laboratories, but does apply to all medical clinics and hospitals in the county. The order does not apply to patients, only to those who treat them.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Coren said that each county has a unique order, and that the state leaves masking decisions up to the counties.
“I did a lot of research on it,” he said. “This pretty well follows what’s being done in the Bay Area, Sonoma, Marin, Napa counties. Many other public health services in Northern California [counties] did not do this.”
In the order, he designated surgical masks instead of N-95 masks, although N-95 masks are more effective at stemming the spread of disease. Many surgical masks are worn too loose across the nose and mouth.
Coren said of N-95 masks, “They are also less worn and they’re decidedly more uncomfortable and more expensive.”
Coren said he considered the burden of N-95s on hospital workers, many of whom work 12-hour shifts under stressful conditions.
“I wracked my heart about doing this. I did not want to do it not only because I didn’t want to get the flak and the pushback, but I understood what it was like to wear a mask for a long time,” Coren said. “They can take breaks and remove masks in their break rooms and switch their masks out or just take a breather break. It’s something that is hard to tolerate for as long as these people work every day but that’s what it is.”
He said the purpose of the order is to keep medical workers from infecting patients or each other and thus help prevent critical shortages of workers that occurred at points during the pandemic. He was most concerned about the most vulnerable patients in hospitals.
He made the decision partly from feedback from elderly and ill people who are afraid to visit medical facilities.
“Some people were afraid to go to their clinics or their hospitals, because those might be a source of infection,” Coren explained. “So these people were not not getting their usual care or their COVID care because they were afraid.”
The order applies to all medical workers who enter patient areas of a hospital or clinic, including contractors who pass through waiting areas or patient hallways, Coren said. Hospital and clinic workers are not required to wear masks in break rooms, offices where patients do not enter or any other situation where physical contact with patients does not happen.
Coren expected pushback on the order and has gotten some. There is disagreement along political lines about masking, and the medical community as a whole does not have consensus about the best way to proceed. Most commonly, medical workers are strongly advised to wear masks when with patients, such as in this report from the Mayo Clinic.
Coren said vaccinations are still the most effective way to protect oneself from the flu or Covid-19. But he said vaccinated people can still spread the disease.
“You can’t tell when people are vaccinated or not. Now, we know this year for the first time, that vaccinations are not really controlling transmission as well as masks do,” Coren said.
More information about recent findings and debate about masks and vaccinations and transmission can be found in this article.
Coren said vaccinations are much more effective at protecting someone from getting the disease, but masks are needed to prevent people from transmitting the disease. Vaccinated people can transmit the disease even when it doesn’t infect them, he said.
“High quality and well-fitting masks for employees helps prevent staff from spreading Covid, Influenza, RSV and many other infections to each other and to their patients. This will help preserve the capacity of our health care delivery facilities during the flu season,” Coren wrote in the press release attached to the order.
“This is the best protection we have for all of those viral illnesses and even some bacterial ones,” Coren said. “A well-fitted mask is really protection against all those things. The mask also helps protect the guy walking by who has advanced cancer or is immune-compromised.”
Coren’s order became effective on November 24 and extends to April 30 of 2024. In future years, it will extend from October 1 through April 30 and continue until rescinded.
The order is posted on the county’s Public Health website and posted below here.
Health Care Workers Masking Order
The Health Officer of Mendocino County has released a new order mandating personnel with patient contact working in health care delivery facilities to be masked and employers and operators of health care delivery facilities to develop and implement policies strongly recommending seasonal Influenza and Covid-19 vaccinations to their employees.
Vaccinations are the safest and most effective way to prevent severe infection, hospitalization, and death from these viruses. These are strongly recommended for everyone from 6 months and older. High quality and well-fitting masks for employees helps prevent staff from spreading Covid, Influenza, RSV and many other infections to each other and to their patients. This will help preserve the capacity of our health care delivery facilities during the “flu season”.
This order will become effective on November 24 and extend to April 30 of this year and in future years will extend from October 1 through April 30 and continue until rescinded.
The order is posted on the Public Health website: