Over the past few weeks, I’ve attempted to focus my thoughts on an area that many of us within the disabled community know all too well: the waiting room. That room is a microcosm for healthcare in the United States: It’s a gateway to healing, but, in 2023, it’s functioning in a way that can be harmful to many.

As COVID-19 numbers rise once again, I believe, as a person with cystic fibrosis (CF), that it’s imperative for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to impose a mask mandate in all medical facilities, especially for employees. It’s time for standards of safety and care to matter again.

In the past 10 days, I’ve sat in two waiting areas — one in an emergency room for a wrist injury, and another for an unrelated, routine MRI. While dealing with anxiety about my wrist, I became hyperfocused on who was in the waiting room and what was going on.

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In the emergency room’s waiting area, I noticed that no one else was wearing a mask, though the person behind the counter had a window in front of her and no one else next to her. Beyond the waiting room, only the floor doctor and a nurse were wearing a mask. I was comforted by knowing they were serious about taking care of people. Going from room to room, after all, they could infect anyone.

While in the waiting room for my MRI, I noticed much the same: No one wore a mask except for a nurse and the person conducting the procedure.

At both medical facilities, only four people total (besides me) were wearing masks. That demonstrates why the CDC’s current mask guidelines are too relaxed to help those of us with chronic or terminal illnesses, which makes it harder for us to seek medical help when we need it.

Protecting those who are medically vulnerable

Back in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, people with chronic illness were 12 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those without chronic illness. COVID-19 may be less likely to kill someone these days, but the long-term effects can become extra baggage for those of us who already have illnesses. I was born with breathing issues. Why would I want to unnecessarily add on heart problems or difficulty tasting and smelling food?

I understand that masks force some people to remember a period of history they’d like to forget. I’d like to forget COVID-19, too, but with my health, I can’t afford to. It’s still important for just about everyone to mask up, especially inside healthcare facilities.

I also want to acknowledge that not everyone can wear a mask all the time. When I had pneumonia in 2021, for instance, I had issues wearing a mask while using a CPAP machine. It’s important, then, for others within medical facilities to wear masks to protect people with such difficulties. I believe I might’ve been in the hospital longer if it weren’t for the masking mandates we had then, because COVID-19 seemed to be everywhere.

A young man lies at an incline on a hospital bed. He's wearing a cheetah-print collared shirt that is unbuttoned and pushed to either side, allowing several monitors to be attached to his chest. He's also wearing a large CPAP machine on his head that prohibits him from wearing a face mask. Medical equipment is visible behind him.

William in the hospital: The massive CPAP machine didn’t leave much room for a mask. (Photo by Anne Ryan)

I know that our society is fatigued from restrictions and desperately wants to go back to the way things were in 2019. I miss that world, too. I’m not asking for everyone to wear masks everywhere; I know that’s unrealistic today. However, I do believe that it’s the responsibility of those in healthcare settings, especially staff, to help us and help themselves by masking up.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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