Henry Ford Study Shows Face Masks Strongly Associated With Reducing Healthcare Workers’ Risk of Acquiring COVID-19

March 26, 2021
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Early action to protect team members maximized Henry Ford’s ability to care for patients during onset of COVID-19 pandemic

DETROIT (March 26, 2021) – A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine from researchers at Henry Ford Health System has found that Henry Ford’s early implementation of a universal mask policy in the COVID-19 pandemic was strongly associated with reducing the risk of healthcare workers at Henry Ford acquiring COVID-19. 

Through retrospective analysis of an internal hospital quality metric reporting analytics database that was not associated with electronic medical records, researchers discovered a correlation between the implementation of Henry Ford’s universal mask policy and a significant drop in the rate at which its Healthcare workers tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. As COVID-19 diagnoses and hospitalizations across the State of Michigan continued to rise through late March 2020, the cases among Henry Ford’s healthcare workers began to fall. By the time the first peak in COVID-19 cases occurred in the general population, the rate of cases among Henry Ford healthcare workers was already trending downward.

“This research reinforces the fact that mask wearing is effective in reducing the risk of acquiring COVID-19 and validated our decision early on to implement the universal mask policy, not only to protect our team members, but also to ensure they are able to care for members of the community who had contracted COVID-19,” said Steven Kalkanis, M.D., CEO of Henry Ford Medical Group. “At Henry Ford Health System, our universal mask policy issued on March 26, 2020 ensured all staff, both clinical and non-clinical, received surgical or procedural masks and mandated that staff wear a mask at work while also following all other personal protective equipment requirements. Our hope is that the findings of this study continue to encourage members of the community to wear a mask in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.”

Healthcare workers have a threefold increased risk of reporting testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, compared to the general population, according to a study published in Lancet Public Health. As of March 22, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported more than 450,000 SARS-CoV-2 infections among healthcare workers in the U.S. since the onset of the pandemic, and nearly 1,500 COVID-19 related deaths among healthcare workers.

From March 12 - August 10, 2020, 19.2% of healthcare workers at Henry Ford were symptomatic for COVID-19 and underwent SARS-CoV-2 testing. Before March 28-30 – the single changepoint in the data when the rate of new cases began to trend downward – the odds of a tested healthcare worker having a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result doubled every 4.5 - 7.5 days. After March 30, the odds of a tested healthcare worker having a positive result reduced by half every 10.5 - 13.5 days.

“This effort would not have been possible without the leadership of our executive team, including our president and CEO Wright Lassiter, III, Dr. Steven Kalkanis, chief clinical officer Dr. Adnan Munkarah, and chief operating officer Bob Riney,” said Dee Dee Wang, M.D., Director of Structural Heart Imaging at Henry Ford Hospital and principal investigator of the study. “At a time when much was unknown about the novel coronavirus, this initiative truly helped keep our healthcare workers safe. I would also like to acknowledge Dr. Betty Chu, our associate chief clinical officer and chief quality officer; Dr. William O’Neill, director of our Center for Structural Heart Disease; Dr. Geehan Suleyman, medical director of Infection Control; Dr. Marcus Zervos, chief of our Infectious Disease division; and so many others who were instrumental in the creation and successful implementation of our universal mask policy.” 

With the arrival of COVID-variants in the community, even with COVID-19 vaccines now being rolled out, healthcare workers and community members should remain vigilant and continue to wear a mask in accordance with CDC recommendations. 

Henry Ford is providing onsite expertise and oversight for the vaccine administrations, medical care and operations at the Ford Field mass vaccination site. Vaccines administered at Ford Field are in addition to Michigan’s regular statewide vaccine allotment. Key facts to know:

  • Will operate seven days a week from 8 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. for eight weeks
  • The U.S. Air Force will provide vaccination support
  • 68 vaccination pods will be set up on the Concourse at Ford Field. Vaccinations are open to those who meet the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services vaccine guidelines. 
  • Registration and appointment scheduling are being managed by Meijer. People may register in the following ways:
    • Online at clinic.meijer.com/register/CL2021
    • Text EndCOVID to 75049
    • Call the State of Michigan COVID hotline at 888-535-6136 (Press 1) Monday-Friday 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Saturday/Sunday 8 a.m. - 1 p.m.  


About Henry Ford Health System
Founded in 1915 by Henry Ford himself, Henry Ford Health System is a non-profit, integrated health system committed to improving people’s lives through excellence in the science and art of healthcare and healing. Henry Ford Health System includes Henry Ford Medical Group, with more than 1,900 physicians and researchers practicing in more than 50 specialties at locations throughout Southeast and Central Michigan. Acute care hospitals include Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI and Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson, MI – both Magnet® hospitals; Henry Ford Macomb Hospital; Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital; and Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital.

The largest of these is Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, a quaternary care research and teaching hospital and Level 1 Trauma Center recognized for clinical excellence in cardiology, cardiovascular surgery, neurology, neurosurgery, and multi-organ transplants. The health system also provides comprehensive, best-in-class care for cancer at the Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion, and orthopedics and sports medicine at the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine – both in Detroit.

As one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers, Henry Ford Health System annually trains more than 3,000 medical students, residents, and fellows in more than 50 accredited programs, and has trained nearly 40% of the state’s physicians. Our dedication to education and research is supported by nearly $100 million in annual grants from the National Institutes of Health and other public and private foundations.

Henry Ford’s not-for-profit health plan, Health Alliance Plan (HAP), provides health coverage for more than 540,000 people

Henry Ford Health System employs more than 33,000 people, including more than 1,600 physicians, more than 6,600 nurses and 5,000 allied health professionals.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jeff Adkins / jadkins6@hfhs.org / 586.307.2027


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