Industry Voices—Simple steps will make a big difference in COVID-19 fight. Yes, that means wearing a mask

Robyn Begley
Robyn Begley (AHA)

First, do no harm.

These words—in some form or fashion—are etched in the memory of every individual who pursues a profession in health care. We know it’s not a normal workplace mantra. But as health care workers, we don’t have a normal workplace.

Health care workers are waging war against an invisible enemy inside the walls of almost every hospital across America. Fortunately, we have a track record of treating highly infectious diseases like measles, diphtheria and polio—to name a few.

Coronavirus might be unlike anything we have ever treated before, but the principles that define infection prevention, and the tools we use to protect patients and health care workers, remain the same.

To defeat the coronavirus, we need all Americans to think like health care workers and use those same principles and tools.

Today, that means wearing a mask.

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Since early April, the CDC and other public health experts have urged Americans to wear masks while in public and still less than half are wearing them regularly.

A new Gallup poll found that 44 percent of Americans always wear a mask outside their homes and 28 percent wear one very often. People who rarely, sometimes or never wear masks make up 29 percent of the population.

Imagine if a third of the people who worked in hospitals decided they would prefer only to follow infection prevention guidance sometimes.  

Throughout the country, hospitals and health care workers continue to do their part. The American Hospital Association joined the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association in a nationwide call, an open letter, asking the public to follow three simple steps: wear a mask, practice physical distancing and engage in good hand hygiene.

Hospitals and health systems have implemented social distancing in waiting rooms, required mask use in common areas and limited entrance and exit points. Maintenance staff regularly conduct deep-cleaning throughout hospital buildings. In alignment with CDC guidance, hospitals have also made the painful but necessary decision to place restrictions on visitors.

But in order to defeat the coronavirus, we need our fellow Americans to take a page out of the health care workers’ handbook and do no harm.

I’m a nurse. When I joined the American Hospital Association, I became the spokesperson for thousands of nurses and nurse leaders across the country. I represent the caregivers who provide direct patient care.

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In this role, I have helped health care providers—from nurses and doctors to infection prevention experts, supply chain professionals and hospital administrators—come together to leverage every ounce of training and experience among them to care for patients as they fight this pandemic.

But we can’t do it alone. If we’re going to beat this pandemic, everyone must play a role.

We again joined the AMA and ANA to launch a Wear A Mask campaign including Public Service Announcements asking all Americans to think like a health care worker and let science shape your decisions during this time: Wear a mask, keep your distance from others in public and wash your hands frequently.

Taking these three simple steps will alleviate some of the pressure on our health care system. Everyone has a critical role to play and working together we can ease the surge of patients that need to be cared for and to ensure our brave front-line caregivers can win the fight against this virus.

Not taking them will do considerable harm.

Robyn Begley is the American Hospital Association's Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Executive Officer of the American Organization for Nursing Leadership.