Mass. health officials defend decision to lift mask mandate for medical settings

Dr. Samir Melki and clinical technicians Alexi Melki and Caitlyn Oak at work during a laser eye surgery operation. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Dr. Samir Melki and clinical technicians Alexi Melki and Caitlyn Oak at work during a laser eye surgery operation. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from WBUR's daily morning newsletter, WBUR Today. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here

It may feel almost summery outside today, but I’ve got ice on my mind. The Boston University men’s hockey team takes on Minnesota today at 5 p.m. in the Frozen Four. A win sends the Terriers to the national championship Saturday. But first, the news:

Mask off? Gov. Maura Healey’s administration is standing by its decision to lift the state’s mask mandate for medical settings next month, despite calls from some health professionals to keep the COVID policy in place indefinitely. The requirement — which applies everywhere from big hospitals to small dentist offices — is set to expire with the state’s COVID public health emergency on May 11.

  • Last week, hundreds of local medical professionals signed a letter calling the decision “dangerous and unethical.” They also asked individual health care organizations to keep their mask policies in place as a preventative measure against the spread of COVID.
  • However, Department of Public Health officials say infection control experts and other leaders at some of the state’s largest hospital systems have been the ones asking them to end the mask mandate. “This decision is aligned with CDC guidance … and was made following extensive conversations with health care experts,” said a state spokesperson, noting that most other states have already lifted their mask mandates for healthcare settings.
  • DPH also reiterated that the state can always reinstate mask mandates in such settings if COVID rates rebound at some point in the future.

In other health news: Three former executives of a Massachusetts medical device company are facing federal chargesfor allegedly concealing that their blood lead tests had malfunctioned and given wrong results. As WBUR’s Gabrielle Emanuel reports, the accusations surface some disconcerting questions for many parents.

  • Prosecutors say that tens of thousands of kids and others received inaccurately low lead test results from Billerica-based Magellan Diagnostics’s tests, offering a false sense of security. In fact, the since-recalled devices were used in more than half of all lead blood tests done in the U.S. between 2013 and 2017.
  • The local impact: State records obtained by Emanuel show that Magellan’s devices were used at a minimum of 97 pediatric and other health care offices in Massachusetts. However, experts say it’s too late to retest many of the impacted kids. “After a couple of months, lead washes out of the bloodstream,” Philip Landrigan, a physician and lead public health expert at Boston College, said.
  • What you should know: The CDC estimated in 2021 that 500,000 kids ages 1 to 5 have dangerous levels of lead in their blood. Since the Magellan devices have already been recalled, Landrigan hopes the new charges don’t erode public trust in other tests: “Blood lead testing is highly protective of children’s health.”

Look away, Charlie Baker. Boston is set to become the largest city in Massachusetts to opt in to a new climate-friendly building code that discourages oil and gas hookups in new construction and major renovations. The City Council approved the so-called “stretch code” by an 8-4 vote yesterday, and Mayor Michelle Wu plans to quickly give the measure final approval, her office told The Boston Globe.

The city of Lowell kicked off a new police body camera program yesterday, equipping 30 officers with the devices. The city is planning to expand the pilot program to the entire 235-officer force next year.

  • Lowell adds to the small but growing contingent of Massachusetts communities that have rolled out police body cameras. (Southborough also joined the club this week.)
  • One hiccup: District attorneys say the statewide network that handles all that body cam footage is getting overloaded, as more police departments adopt the officer-worn cameras.

P.S.— Join us for a drink — and a bite! The Radio Boston team is hosting a panel discussion tonight at CitySpace about the state of the beer industry in Massachusetts and the state’s rise to become one of the leading brewers in the nation. And yes, attendees will get to sample several local beers, along with some specially paired food.


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Nik DeCosta-Klipa Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.



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