(The Hill) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer recommends universal masking in health care settings, unless the facilities are in areas of high COVID-19 transmission.
The agency quietly released the updates as part of an overhaul to its infection control guidelines for health care workers released Friday afternoon. This marks a major change from the agency’s previous recommendation for universal masking.
“Updates have been made to reflect the high levels of vaccine- and infection-induced immunity and the availability of effective treatments and prevention tools,” the new CDC guidance reads.
Now, the CDC says facilities in areas without high transmission can “choose not to require” all physicians, patients and visitors to wear a mask. Transmission is different from the community levels that the CDC uses to guide settings outside of health care.
Community transmission refers to measurements of the presence and spread of SARS-CoV-2, the CDC said.
“This is the measure currently recommended to guide certain practices in health care facilities to enable earlier intervention, before the health system is strained and to better protect people seeking care in these facilities. “, said the CDC.
Right now, about 73% of the United States is experiencing “high” transmission rates.
Community levels “emphasize measures of the impact of COVID-19 in terms of hospitalizations and strain on the health care system, while considering community transmission,” the CDC said.
Only 7% of counties are considered high risk, while nearly 62% of counties are considered low risk.
Additionally, the new guidelines include a list of exceptions when people can choose to mask themselves, compared to previous guidelines which included a list of exceptions when masking was not recommended.
Although mask-wearing is not universally required, if a provider works in a part of the facility affected by a COVID-19 outbreak, or cares for immunocompromised patients, they should wear a mask.
When transmission levels are high, wearing a mask is recommended for anyone in a healthcare facility when they are in areas of the healthcare facility where they might encounter patients.
Providers can choose not to wear a mask when in “well-defined areas” with restricted patient access, such as staff meeting rooms.
Public health experts have said the updates will result in fewer people in hospitals and nursing homes wearing masks, putting patients and providers at risk.
Megan Ranney, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, tweeted that the new guidelines could lead to places of high transmission unmasking sick patients who have not yet been tested for COVID-19, right next to the elderly, chemotherapy patients, people with lung disorders and women vulnerable speakers.
“This nuanced ‘have your cake and eat it too’ approach hasn’t worked ONCE throughout the pandemic. People are hearing ‘no more masks!’ tweeted Jerome Adams, who served as surgeon general during the Trump administration.
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