A Disabled Healthcare Worker’s Perspective on Healthcare Setting Mask Mandates

May 23, 2023

It’s easy to fall into a pattern of yelling numbers, long-known infection prevention protocols, and updated Covid mitigation measures at each other when talking about masks and healthcare, so instead I’d like to share a couple stories from the people most affected by the end of mask mandates in healthcare settings. This article offers a human perspective to go along with the data since we’ve become so desensitized — especially as healthcare workers — to hearing information without knowing the people connected to it.

I meet with a group every Saturday, over Zoom, where a large portion of people are those whom our government has effectively deemed expendable with marketing the false end to the risks of Covid. These “expendable” people are folks with chronic illnesses and disabilities; such as, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome), Cystic Fibrosis (CF), and Long Covid — just to name a few. One topic of conversation that comes up, nearly every week now, is the large number of hospitals and other clinics removing mask mandates.

One person from this weekly social group, Kristin (they/she/it), agreed to meet with me separately and talk about their experience navigating maskless healthcare settings as a high risk person. Kristin has CF and is at extreme risk of Covid complications. Since an incident with a previous medical provider left them unable to do so themselves, Kristin needs to get their port flushed at a clinic every month. They described how unsettling and bizarre it was following the end of hospital mask requirements to suddenly see maskless people roaming around this clinic that works almost exclusively with immunocompromised people:

“It really felt like a betrayal, like these are the people who are supposed to care about my health. Why did you even get into medicine at all if you can’t do something so easy to protect your patients?”

This is a common feeling among Disabled people, especially immunocompromised people, who have been pushed to the furthest margins of society by the end of Covid restrictions. When Disabled people hear someone say “It’s so good to finally see everyone’s faces again!” it brings us no comfort, because we know they care more about their personal ability to deny the on-going pandemic than they care about us.

In order to avoid making more impactful and long-term improvements to the economy and to healthcare, Disabled people have been thrown under the bus by our governments; all in order to bring back the same “business as usual” that prompted multiple economic crises and mismanagement of a pandemic. How often have you heard “Well, only people with pre-existing conditions are dying,” or “Well, only the really old or sick people need to worry about Covid”? In healthcare, we ostensibly take care of the very old and the very sick. So how is it that we can so casually and callously disregard them in this way?

In a time when over 1,000 people are dying from Covid every week in the USA alone(1), and it remains the 4th highest cause of death across this country(2), how are we able to so quickly forget that we are supposed to protect our patients? How can we say we care for our patients when over 6,000 people are getting Covid from their hospital stay every single week(3)? How can we pretend that it isn’t an issue when a concerning number of patients are now getting Long Covid(4)?

I’ll end with another story, which is my story. I am a Disabled healthcare worker. In addition to other diagnoses, I have struggled with chronic lung issues stemming from childhood. Most of the time, these are just mild annoyances, however there are severe complications whenever I have a respiratory infection, including long term harm. From recurring bouts of bronchitis throughout my childhood, to almost dying from Influenza as a teenager, I absolutely cannot risk contracting Covid. Yet even with this, it seems very difficult for my colleagues in the healthcare field to understand why I wear a KN-95 to work every day even when I’m not working with Covid patients, or why I still mask in other indoor spaces like stores, or why I avoid indoor restaurants.

I know, though, that a lack of knowledge isn’t really the problem. So many of us have been traumatized over the course of the pandemic — seeing so many sick and dying, enduring through PPE shortages, being taken advantage of by greedy executives who continue to pocket the money they swear they can’t pay us, and then being vilified when the healthcare system has begun to fail due to its own unsustainable nature. So many healthcare workers simply want to believe that Covid is no longer an issue, that we can go back to the way the world used to be. That world doesn’t exist anymore though, and that way of doing things was extremely harmful, especially to the Disabled community, the whole time.

Call me idealistic, but I believe we should live in a world where the people taking care of the health and well-being of the population are empathetic with those who have no choice but to be cautious. Due to these relaxed Covid policies, Disabled people have been isolated from friends and family, kept away from previous hobbies, and essentially forced out of mainstream society, and now we are being kept out of the only places we cannot avoid if we want to survive — hospitals and healthcare clinics. It’s a slap in the face when I, and other Disabled folks, see videos of healthcare workers dancing with their masks off, or see posts talking about how glad people are to ditch the N95 forever. It’s a stark reminder of how the medical community has chosen to abandon us instead of being empathetic care providers who promised to “do no harm.”

Being both Disabled and working in healthcare gives me a unique perspective, straddling both worlds. It’s not Disabled and immunocompromised people who are making life as a healthcare worker impossible, it’s the policy makers and healthcare executives exploiting all of us. One thing I can say to the rest of the medical community right now is that Disabled people cannot be in solidarity with healthcare workers if healthcare workers aren’t willing to do the bare minimum to keep preventable infectious diseases out of healthcare spaces, it’s not safe for the Disabled community. I will continue wearing my mask around patients, not only for my own health, but for the health of my patients. This is a form of solidarity, helping bridge the gap between two communities that should be natural allies in the fight to make healthcare more accessible and sustainable to both patients and providers.


  1. “COVID Data Tracker.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Department of Health and Human Services, last modified May 9, 2023. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#trends_weeklydeaths_select_00
  2. Ahmad FB, Cisewski JA, Xu J, Anderson RN. “Provisional Mortality Data — United States, 2022.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 72, no. 18 (2023): 488–492. Accessed May 9, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/72/wr/mm7218a3.htm
  3. “COVID-19 Reported Patient Impact and Hospital Capacity by State Timeseries (RAW).” HealthData. US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Chief Data Officer. Last Updated May 9, 2023. https://healthdata.gov/Hospital/COVID-19-Reported-Patient-Impact-and-Hospital-Capa/g62h-syeh
  4. “Innovative Support for Patients with SARS-CoV-2 Infections (INSPIRE): Prospective Cohort Study.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Department of Health and Human Services, Last modified October 3, 2022. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#inspire

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