COLUMBIA − As COVID-19 cases are on the rise in mid-Missouri, hospitals are changing COVID-19 policies to prevent the spread of the virus.

Starting Wednesday, patients at Boone Health are only allowed one visitor and must wear a medical-grade mask. 

Lake Regional Hospital in Osage Beach is changing its visitor policies starting on Thursday. Visitors must also wear a medical-grade or surgical mask while in the hospital or its clinics.

Exceptions to the new visitor guidelines are pediatric patients and patients at the end of life. Patients under these exceptions are allowed two visitors, but must still wear the medical grade mask at both hospitals. 

Homemade masks, cloth masks and face shields will no longer be allowed at Boone Hospital and Lake Regional Hospital.

Truman VA also now requires medical-grade masks and will provide the mask at the hospital's entrances. MU Health Care changed its visitor policy to one visitor per patient but has not changed the masking requirements for visitors. 

This comes as the CDC is "weighing recommending better masks as the omicron variant surges across the country," according to The Washington Post

Dr. Robin Blount, chief medical officer at Boone Health, explained the difference between cloth, medical and N95 masks. 

"The cloth mask can only stop large particles, and a medical grade mask certainly stops more particles, but there's still air flow since it's not tight around your mouth and nose," Dr. Blount said. "With N95 masks or similar (KN95) masks, 95% of particles are stopped because it gives you a really tight seal."

In an interview with NBC News, Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center, explained why top health experts are recommending the N95 and KN95 masks instead of common disposable masks. 

"Those two variants [delta and omicron] are more transmissible and that is why we're recommending that people wear a higher quality mask," Dr. Assoumou said. 

Health experts are encouraging everyone to wear a mask, even if they don't have access to the higher quality masks and regardless of vaccination status.

"An N95 mask is your best, and then a surgical grade or medical type of mask, then a cloth mask or nothing," Dr. Blount said. "Clearly having no mask doesn't do anything for you as far as protecting you from particles coming in or protecting others from particles going out." 

With the CDC discussing updating current guidelines to recommend stronger masks, like N95 and KN95, the Biden administration is considering expanding the supply of these masks for the general public.

Some pharmacies in mid-Missouri, like D&H Drugstore, are completely sold out of N95 and KN95 masks. Bigger retailers like Walmart are also out of stock of KN95 masks. 

Home Depot is one of the few stores in Columbia that carries the higher quality masks and has them in stock. The N95 masks range in packages from $12 for eight masks to $40 for 25 masks. 

A general manager at Home Depot told KOMU 8 News the store is preparing for the KN95 and N95 masks to go out of stock soon due to the high demand with a rise in COVID-19 cases. 

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