An Ethical Analysis of Hospital Visitor Restrictions and Masking Requirements During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Armand H. Matheny Antommaria, Laura Monhollen, and Joshua K. Schaffzin




Nonpharmaceutical interventions to minimize the transmission of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 are necessary because we currently lack a vaccine or specific treatments. Healthcare facilities have adopted visitor restrictions and masking requirements. These interventions should be evaluated as public health measures, focusing on their efficacy, the availability of less-restrictive alternatives, and the minimization of the burdens and their balance with the benefits. These interventions, as well as exceptions, can be justified by the same analysis. For example, visitor restrictions are sound, as are exceptions for women in labor, adults with disabilities, minor children, and individuals who are dying. In implementing these policies, specific rules are preferable to general principles because they are more efficient and reduce possible bias. There should, however, be appeal mechanisms and retrospective review processes. Evaluating requests for medical exemptions to masking requirements is particularly difficult, given the prevalence of nonmedical objections, false claims of medical exemptions, and a lack of objective medical criteria. Requiring written statements by licensed healthcare providers that undergo subsequent substantive review may therefore be justified.




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