The CDC no longer recommends universal masking in health care settings

(The Hill) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer recommends universal masking in healthcare settings, unless the facilities are in areas of high transmission of COVID-19.

The agency quietly released the updates as part of a revision of its infection control guidance for healthcare workers released late Friday. It marks a major departure from the agency’s previous recommendation for universal masking.

“Updates were made to reflect the high levels of vaccine- and infection-induced immunity and the availability of effective treatments and prevention tools,” the CDC’s new guidance says.

Now, the CDC says facilities in regions without high transmission can “choose not to require” all doctors, patients and visitors to wear masks. Transmission is different from the community levels that CDC uses to guide non-healthcare settings.

Community transmission refers to measures of the presence and spread of SARS-CoV-2, CDC said.

“It is the metric currently recommended to guide selected practices in health care settings to enable earlier intervention, before there is strain on the health care system, and to better protect people seeking care in those settings,” CDC said.

Right now, about 73 percent of the United States is experiencing “high” transmission rates.

The community levels “emphasize measures of the impact of COVID-19 in terms of hospitalizations and health system strain, while also taking into account transmission in the community,” CDC said.

Only 7 percent of counties are considered high risk, while nearly 62 percent of counties are considered low.

In addition, the new guidance includes a list of exceptions when people could choose to mask, compared to the previous guidance which included a list of exceptions when masking was not recommended.

Even if masking is not universally required, if a provider works in a part of the facility experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, or cares for immunocompromised patients, they should wear a mask.

When levels of transmission are high, masking is recommended for everyone in a healthcare setting when in areas of the healthcare facility where they may encounter patients.

Providers can choose not to wear masks when in “well-defined areas” that are restricted for patient access, such as staff meeting rooms.

Public health experts said the updates will mean fewer people in hospitals and nursing homes will wear masks, putting patients and providers at risk.

Megan Ranney, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, he tweeted that the new guidance could result in sites with substantial transmission unmasking sick patients who have not yet been tested for COVID-19, right alongside the elderly, chemotherapy patients, people with lung disorders and vulnerable pregnant women.

“This nuanced approach of having your cake and eating it too has not worked ONCE during the pandemic. People are hearing ‘no more masks!’ he tweeted Jerome Adams, who served as surgeon general during the Trump administration.

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