Horizon Health Network is tightening its masking rules again, requiring all health-care workers, patients, visitors and designated support persons to wear a medical-grade mask in all patient and clinical areas of its facilities, starting Monday.
Masks will not be required in non-clinical areas, such as lobbies, hallways or cafeterias, according to a news release issued Thursday.
"This represents a change from previous masking guidance announced on October 3 where strategic masking was implemented in Horizon hospitals experiencing outbreaks of respiratory illness," it says.
Horizon does not state what prompted the change and a spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
But the decision comes as New Brunswick's COVID-19 hazard index jumped to the highest in the country, according to an infectious diseases researcher and co-founder of COVID-19 Resources Canada.
The province's score is 22.8, as of Monday, with an estimated one in 10 people currently infected, Tara Moriarty posted on social media. The national average is 21.2, with an estimated one in 19 Canadians infected.
New Brunswick also recorded three more COVID deaths between Oct. 8 and Oct. 14, along with 57 hospitalizations, two ICU admissions, and more than 150 new PCR-confirmed cases, according to Tuesday's Respiratory Watch report. There are also 14 lab-confirmed outbreaks at nursing homes and "other facilities," and 11 outbreaks on Horizon hospital units.
"Horizon's infectious diseases/infection prevention and control team is closely monitoring respiratory virus activity in our communities and facilities and will review this information throughout the respiratory illness season (October through April) to determine when updates to masking guidance can safely be made," according to the news release.
Medical-grade masks remain available in all Horizon facilities to anyone wishing to wear one at any time, and signage will be put in place to help patients, designated support persons and visitors understand when masks are required and when they are optional, it says.
Earlier this month when Horizon reintroduced masking, it said it was in anticipation of an increase in COVID-19 cases and other respiratory viruses in its hospitals and the wider community.
Vitalité Health Network has not announced any changes to its masking rules.