‘Give us health care, not COVID’

Dr. Lara Jirmanus and Ellen Leigh of Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity address the media outside Boston hospital, May 4, 2023. WW Photo: Maureen Skehan


The entrance of Massachusetts General Hospital — a downtown Boston campus of the growing regional corporate monopoly Mass General Brigham — was the scene of a rare protest: The Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity staged an emergency press conference and speak-out on May 4. 

Their demand: Hospital administrators must maintain full masking safety protocols for patients, health care workers and visitors, due to the rapidly developing, ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.

Speakers included a family physician, an epidemiologist, people with disabilities, patients and a union representative, who all urged MGH administrators to reverse their unwarranted decision to discard masking protocols, along with most COVID-19 testing safeguards. Their banner read: “Give Us Care, NOT COVID! Keep Infection Control in Health Care!”

Gov. Maura Healy decided to comply with President Joe Biden’s policy to terminate the federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency in Massachusetts on May 11. Millions of people will be impacted as federal funds end for vital programs including Medicaid, SNAP food vouchers, free PCR tests and home testing kits, COVID-19 tracking and data reporting, personal care attendant hours, student loan and eviction moratoriums. 

Ending masking in health care facilities is the most acute and deadly result of the Biden administration’s abandonment of strategies to combat the spread of the increasingly contagious airborne virus.

As she was forced away from the hospital entrance by Boston police and hospital security, MCHE leader Dr. Lara Jirmanus, a family physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, spoke to the media about the urgency of maintaining masking: “Patients have the right to safe and accessible health care. This decision to get rid of masking in health care, including dentists’ offices, is being pushed by hospital administrators to maximize profits and is not safe for anyone. We do not consent!

“Ending masking in health care will lead to more preventable infections and outbreaks, at the expense of our society’s most vulnerable.”

End unnecessary risks

Ellen Leigh, an outspoken advocate with MCHE and Second Thoughts Massachusetts, who uses a wheelchair, added: “The health care workers here are working to save lives, to heal people. They don’t deserve to be at unnecessary risk of getting COVID-19 and long COVID. What’s going to happen to our health care system, if people are not able to work? Many people are leaving the profession due to all the risks and stressors. It’s only going to increase the risks and stress, if we take away masks in health care.”

The MCHE demands 1) the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and all health care institutions must make universal masking the new infection control standard and continue hospital admission COVID-19 testing; 2) guaranteed free access for all to the tools to prevent and treat COVID-19: N95 or equivalent respirators, COVID-19 vaccines, PCR and rapid tests, and treatments regardless of insurance; and 3) The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must recommend universal masking in health care at all times as the new infection control standard.

The question of masking in health care settings has broad implications, as new COVID-19 variants like arcturus (omicron XBB.1.16) and others mutate, evolve to be more contagious and spread globally, which inevitably leads to continued infections, hospitalizations, deaths and the more disabling long COVID, including among schoolchildren. 

COVID-19 is airborne and can be easily contracted in hospitals, dentist offices and schools. It can harm every organ of the body and reinfect people multiple, perhaps unlimited times. Despite vaccinations and treatments, the long-term health consequences to whole populations could be catastrophic. (tinyurl.com/mpj293b7)

It should be the government and responsible health care administrators’ priority to continue masking mandates, at a minimum, in health care settings as the most effective method known to slow COVID-19’s spread. As a sign at today’s protest highlighted, to discard masking is to violate the medical community’s most essential ethical responsibility: “Do no harm.”

For further information from MCHE, visit: linktr.ee/MAHealthEquity.

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