The head of one of the largest regional health systems in the Midwest told his staff that he had recoveredand returns to the office – without a mask.
Sanford Health President and CEO Kelby Crabenhoft said in an email Wednesday that he believes he is now immune to the disease “for at least seven months and maybe years to come” and that there is no threat of passing it on to anyone, so wearing mask would be for display only.
The e-mail from Krabbenhoft, who is not a doctor, comes as hospitals across the region, including his own network, struggle to respond to some of the worst waves of coronavirus patients in the country. And this comes at a time when wearing masks remains a politicized issue in many countries.
Headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Sanford Health has 46 hospitals and more than 200 clinics concentrated in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. It employs nearly 48,000 people. The Dakota had the countryfor a few weeks, with Iowa behind, and Minnesota catching up.
“For me, wearing a mask opposes the efficacy and purpose of a mask and sends a false message that I am susceptible to infection or could transmit it,”
South Dakota Gov. Christy Noem has refused to impose a mandate for a mask across the state. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgham did so last week after months of pressure and a warrant that allowed asymptomaticto stay at work.
Other Republican governors, including Kim Reynolds of Iowa, have begun changing their mandates as their hospitals fill. Minnesota Democratic Governor Tim Waltz ordered one back in July.
Krabbenhoft did not immediately respond to a request for an interview on Friday from the Associated Press. Sanford Health posted a statement on social media that did not address his comments directly, but said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, our healthcare providers have called on our communities to fulfill their role by wearing masks and physically distancing themselves to slow down. the spread of the virus. This is the best way to reduce stress on our healthcare system. “
Sanford Health requires clinic staff and visitors to hospitals and clinics to wear masks, according to its website. It was not immediately clear whether Krabbenhoft’s decision not to wear a mask opened the door for anyone who worked or visited a facility in Sanford to refuse to wear it if they said they already had the disease.
The CEO did not explain in his email why he thought he had been immunized for at least seven months. Scientists still don’t know if a coronavirus once protects against future diseases or how long the protection can last. How long an infected person can spread the virus is also unclear, but scientists believe that people usually clear it within about 10 days of the onset of symptoms, unless they have a weak immune system or some other condition.
Krabbenhoft acknowledged that the masks were a good idea for people who had not contracted the virus and were therefore at risk of acquiring it and then spreading it.
“It’s important for them to know that masks are just smart to use and in their best interest,” he wrote.
But Dr. Katie Anderson, president of the North Dakota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said Crabenhoft’s message was “definitely not helpful” and “a particularly dangerous message to be sent to North Dakota right now.”
It’s hard for ordinary people to know what to believe given all the conflicting messages they receive, Anderson said. And she said it’s important for people to know he’s not a doctor.
“Leaders across the country and across the country need to understand the power of leadership,” Anderson said. “The power of leadership is not just telling others what to do. The power of leadership is in modeling the behavior that others need to follow.”
Tessa Johnson, president of the North Dakota Nurses Association, called Krabbenhoft’s message “discouraging.”
“I think one of the things is that we really tried to get public support for wearing a mask and social distancing,” she said. “And when a public figure says the opposite, it just confuses people.”
Krabbenhoft told Argus leader Argus about the story published on Friday that he did not think South Dakota needed a mandate for a mask. He said his hospital system was in a good position to deal with any increase in COVID-19 patients before vaccines became widely available.
“At this point, we think we’ve mastered it,” Krabenhoft said. “There is no crisis.”
But another major regional health system based in Sioux Falls, Avera, told a South Dakota lawmaker on Friday that it now supports the mandates, having not been supported before. In a letter to Democrat Linda Duba, Avera’s chief executive, said the organization was “forced to change our position” given the growing number of COVID-19 patients, the fatigue of its front-line carers and support for a healthy workforce and business and schools open.