Following latest data on COVID-19, Dartmouth Health amends masking policy for facilities

A video announcement from Michael Calderwood, MD, MPH, explains the considerations that went into the masking policy update.

In keeping with the latest science and recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dartmouth Health announces new masking guidelines for all facilities, including Cheshire Medical Center and satellite locations, that will go into effect on Monday, April 10.

Starting Monday, April 10, masking will be optional for employees, patients, and visitors without symptoms that may be COVID-19 in all Dartmouth Health facilities. This guideline applies to 
•    Private areas (offices and meeting rooms).
•    Patient care areas (exam rooms, inpatient rooms).
•    Public spaces (waiting rooms, cafeteria, nurses' stations, hallways). 

Masks are only required within Cheshire Medical Center and all Dartmouth Health facilities when you:

  • Have signs/symptoms of respiratory illness (with or without fever) such as:
    • Congestion
    • Cough
    • Runny nose
    • Sore throat
  • Have been diagnosed with a respiratory illness (COVID, flu, etc.)
  • Have had a known exposure to COVID (within 7to 10 days)

We are mask-friendly and continue to offer masks at no cost in our buildings. If you would like any member of the staff who are caring for you to wear a mask, please let us know. We are happy to wear one if you ask.

These updates to the masking policy follow an extensive review by Dartmouth Health's COVID-19 Operations Group. They are possible due to high vaccination rates, low community transmission, and increased public immunity. 

With high vaccination rates, low community transmission, and increased immunity, we can take this next step safely.

Aalok Khole, MD, infectious disease specialist

Dartmouth Health will continue to monitor the data closely and, should there be an unexpected surge in cases, adjust guidelines accordingly.

"We have always stood by data and evidence to guide our policies, and we continue to do so," says Aalok Khole, MD, infectious disease specialist at Cheshire. "We are in a much different place than 3 years ago. With high vaccination rates, low community transmission, and increased immunity, we can take this next step safely. However, we will continue monitoring the data and pivot if needed. We understand individual concerns and will always support those who wish to continue wearing masks while within our facility."

It is important to note that anyone who chooses to wear a mask for either medical reasons or personal comfort is encouraged to do so. Dartmouth Health employees are asked to consider colleague, patient and visitor preferences while interacting with them.

"We ask that individuals practice 'mask mirroring,'" said Michael S. Calderwood, MD, MPH, chief quality officer at Dartmouth Health's Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC), who has been a trusted voice in the region on COVID-19 mitigation strategies since the beginning of the pandemic, and who was instrumental in the revisions to the masking policy. 

"In any environment, we encourage respect for masking choices, and that is true most especially in healthcare. If people you're around ask you to wear a mask to help provide additional protection, that is something we've learned to do, and something we expect our staff to do. We can easily show that courtesy, don the mask, and help to make sure that our patients are feeling comfortable."

Dartmouth Health facilities updating their masking policy on April 10 include Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, Cheshire Medical Center, DHMC, Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center and New London Hospital. The new masking policy became effective at Dartmouth Hitchcock Clinics locations on April 5.