B.C. dad questions lack of mandatory mask policy in hospital's newborn ICU
VANCOUVER -- Sina Muscati’s twin boy and girl havef been in the neonatal intensive care unit at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C. since they arrived prematurely in September.
“My children were born very early, 28 weeks plus 2 days,” Muscati said. “The staff have been really really great, they’ve been taking really good care of them.”
Early on, Muscati said he noticed while medical staff wore PPE, not all visitors in the unit were wearing masks. One day, he said he arrived to find his infant son had been placed in precautionary isolation.
“They said there had been a possible exposure to COVID from one of the staff members,” he said. “He didn’t test positive or anything, but it was still...I mean, it was scary.”
Muscati said he was surprised to learn while masks are strongly encouraged in the unit, they are not required.
“These premature babies...they’re born, especially at that age, with almost no immune systems," he said.
Muscati said babies in the unit are very vulnerable, and not just to COVID-19. Even a common cold could have serious effects. He added it’s sort of “bizarre” that masks are required in other places, like on public transit, but not in a hospital with immunocompromised patients.
“Whether they’re in recovery, or in a NICU, or in the ICU, how could it be that masks are not required here in the middle of a pandemic?” Muscati asked.
Muscati said he wrote to the province and received a response that said while masks are recommended they are not required, and not everyone can wear a mask.
“I understand that,” Muscati said, but added he thinks places where people are more susceptible to illnesses and major respiratory issues should take greater precautions.
“I think we should take that one step further and make it a requirement,” he said. “We’ve raised it with the nurses, we’ve raised it even with the doctors, and they all support our position.”
Also in support of Muscati’s position is family physician Dr. Anna Wolak with the advocacy group Masks4Canada.
“It’s baffling,” Dr. Wolak said, referring to the lack of mask requirements for everyone visiting NICUs. “A paediatrician from Alberta actually said that it terrifies her that there are NICUs in Canada that masking is not mandated or even expected.”
Wolak said they’d like to see a broader mask mandate that applies throughout hospitals.
“It’s very concerning,” she said, and added with the added pressure of flu season, mandating masks more widely could help decrease the “twindemic” load for hospitals.
“We want to protect the health care workers, we want to protect everybody else working at the hospitals, we want to protect the patients and the visitors, and the absence of masks just seems to be such a weird thing to overlook.”
In a statement to CTV News, Fraser Health said all visitors to Royal Columbian Hospital’s NICU "are encouraged to wear masks and Fraser health will supply them with one if necessary. However it is not mandatory for visitors to wear masks.”
The health authority said only two essential visitors are allowed to visit each baby in the NICU, and all complete health assessments, and are asked to wash their hands and sanitize their phones.
Muscati said he does see most people wearing masks, but he feels making the coverings mandatory would reinforce the seriousness of the environment and the situation.
“I’m not trying to criticize people, especially not these new parents who are going through a very hard time, maybe they’re just exhausted or they’re not aware of the policy,” he said. “I was just surprised to see that it wasn’t a requirement to wear a mask in the NICU.”
He told CTV News it’s hoped his new twins will be home by late November or early December.