Chicago hospitals are preparing for an anticipated surge in coronavirus patients.
The University of Chicago Medicine health system instituted a new policy beginning Friday that requires all staff - clinical and otherwise - to wear masks while on the medical campus.
The universal masking policy is intended to reduce the risk of transmission of the deadly coronavirus from staff who may be carrying the disease but are asymptomatic, the hospital said in a statement.
The hospital is also bringing back on Friday faculty and staff members who were furloughed after potential exposure to the coronavirus but are showing no symptoms, instituting the universal mask policy the same day.
When cases of the virus could be traced to a known exposure or another country with high infection rates, the medical center furloughed employees when they reported unprotected exposure to someone with COVID-19 or who had traveled recently to restricted countries.
Now that the pandemic has entered a phase of "widespread community circulation," the furlough policy "no longer provides the right level of protection for patients and other staff," the hospital said.
The University of Chicago said anyone who has symptoms of respiratory illness, flu-like illness, a fever or who tested positive for the virus will not be coming back until they are medically cleared to return.
“Because the disease continues to spread in our community, we must assume anyone can be exposed at any time and are expecting a surge of infected patients in the coming days,” Dr. Kenneth Polonsky, executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Chicago, said in a statement.
Rush University Medical Center has also been preparing for an influx of coronavirus cases.
The hospital converted its main lobby into a clinical area, so all non-coronavirus patients can receive treatment for their needs as medical staff anticipate coronavirus cases will fill up the emergency room.