The head of one of the largest regional health systems in the Midwest has told employees that he has recovered from COVID-19 and is back in the office – without a mask.
Sanford Health President and Chief Executive Officer Kelby Krabbenhoft said in an email Wednesday that he believes he has been immune to the disease “for at least seven months and maybe years” and that he poses no threat to it to pass on to anyone. So wearing a mask would be just a show.
The email from Krabbenhoft, who is not a doctor, is coming as hospitals across the region, including on his own network. are struggling to keep up with some of the worst coronavirus patients in the country. And there comes a time when the wearing of masks remains a politicized issue in many states.
Sanford Health, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has 46 hospitals and more than 200 clinics in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. It employs almost 48,000 people. The Dakotas had the worst spread rates in the country for several weeks, followed by Iowa as Minnesota caught up.
“Wearing a mask is contrary to the effectiveness and purpose of a mask and sends a false message that I am susceptible to or could transmit infections,” wrote Krabbenhoft in the email received from The Associated Press. “I’m not interested in using masks as a symbolic gesture. … My team and I have a duty to express the truth, the facts and the reality and not to do the opposite. “
South Dakota governor Kristi Noem has refused to issue a nationwide mask mandate. North Dakota governor Doug Burgum did so last week after months of pressure. Other Republican governors, including Iowa’s Kim Reynolds, have begun postponing masked mandates as their hospitals fill up. Minnesota Democratic Governor Tim Walz ordered one back in July.
Krabbenhoft did not immediately respond to an interview request on Friday. Sanford Health posted a statement on social media in which it did not address his comments directly, but instead said, “Since the pandemic began, our health care providers have urged our communities to do their part by wearing masks and physically distancing themselves to help out Slow down the spread of the virus. This is the best way to reduce the stress on our health system. “
Sanford Health, according to its website, requires clinic staff and hospital and clinic visitors to wear masks. It was not immediately clear whether Krabbenhoft’s decision not to wear a mask would open the door to anyone else who works in or attends a Sanford facility to opt out of wearing a mask if he says he has already had the disease to have.
The CEO didn’t explain in his email why he thinks he’ll be immune for at least seven months. Scientists do not yet know whether the coronavirus was once protected from future diseases or how long protection could last. How long an infected person can spread the virus is also unclear. However, scientists believe that unless they have a weak immune system or certain other medical conditions, people usually get rid of it within about 10 days of symptoms starting.
Krabbenhoft has recognized that masks are a good idea for people who have not contracted the virus and therefore run the risk of acquiring it and then spreading it.
“It’s important for them to know that masks are just plain intelligent and in their best interests,” he wrote.
Dr. However, Kathy Anderson, president of the North Dakota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said Krabbenhoft’s message was “definitely not helpful” and “a particularly dangerous message currently being sent in North Dakota.”
It is difficult for ordinary people to know what to believe, given all of the conflicting messages they are receiving, Anderson said. And she said it was important that people know that he is not a doctor.
“Leaders across the state and across the nation need to understand the power of leadership,” said Anderson. “The power of leadership is not just telling others what to do. The power of leadership resides in modeling the behavior that others must obey. “
Tessa Johnson, president of the North Dakota Nurses Association, called Krabbenhoft’s message “disheartening”.
“I think one of the things is that we really tried to get public support for mask wearing and social distancing,” she said. “And when a public figure says the opposite, he only confuses people.”
Krabbenhoft told Sioux Falls’ Argus Leader, for a story posted Friday, that he doesn’t believe South Dakota needs a mask mandate. He said his hospital system is well positioned to cope with an increase in COVID-19 patients before vaccines become widespread.
“At this point we feel we have this under control,” said Krabbenhoft. “There is no crisis.”
Another major regional health system, Avera of Sioux Falls, told a South Dakota lawmaker on Friday that it is now supporting mask mandates after previously being unsupported. In a letter to Democratic MP Linda Duba, an Avera executive said the organization was “forced to change our attitudes” amid the increase in patients with COVID-19, the tiredness of their frontline caregivers and support for healthy ones Open workforce and keeping shops and schools open.