Hospitals and healthcare workers aren’t pleased with updated CDC recommendations to drop universal masking in healthcare settings.
Late last week, the agency quietly published new guidance that scrapped universal masking for healthcare workers. Now, hospitals and nursing homes in areas without high COVID-19 transmission rates can opt out of requiring doctors, patients, and visitors to mask up.
While the recommendation is tied to local transmission rates rather than the community levels used for public masking recommendations, some 30% of the U.S. currently falls outside of areas with high transmission, according to CDC’s COVID Data Tracker.
Hospital leaders in New York and California told MedPage Today that their facilities will continue to follow state-based recommendations for universal masking, and several clinicians blasted the CDC guidance on Twitter.
“Masks are still required for hospitals and health care facilities in California,” said Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health in San Diego. “We understand that additional guidance might be coming from the [California Department of Public Health (CDPH)] and the state, but for now, it’s still required, and we intend to comply.”
John Cihomsky, a spokesperson for Sharp HealthCare in San Diego, said the system also tends to follow the lead of CDPH, which hasn’t made any changes to the current policy of universal masking for healthcare facilities.
Jason Molinet, spokesperson for Northwell Health in New York, said the state’s health department “has not changed its recommendations/requirements. We follow state guidance.”
Mark Howell, director of policy and patient safety at the American Hospital Association, said the organization “understands” why CDC chose to focus on using transmission data to guide masking decisions for healthcare workers — but noted that healthcare workers in much of the U.S. would still need to mask up.
“These changes reflect the importance of mitigating challenges related to COVID-19 as early as possible and keeping health care workers and the patients they treat safe and healthy, a goal hospitals and health systems strongly share with the CDC,” Howell said in an emailed statement. “Current levels of high community transmission across the country mean universal masking is recommended in most communities for everyone in a health care setting, especially when in areas of the health care facility where they could encounter patients.”
Megan Ranney, MD, MPH, of Brown University, proffered stronger criticism of the guidance on Twitter. She said that CDC’s logic “escapes me,” as it pertains to society’s “most health-vulnerable” people in a setting with a higher-than-average risk of COVID positivity.
“Universal masking decreases transmission of #covid19,” Ranney tweeted, adding that her own hospital in Rhode Island is experiencing staff absences due to COVID.
“Just the time to put patients and staff at higher risk of transmitting the virus to each other in the healthcare setting,” she tweeted.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, tweeted that CDC’s “nuanced have your cake and eat it too approach hasn’t worked a single time throughout the pandemic. People hear, ‘no more masks!'”
“The @CDCgov could’ve said, we will continue to follow local transmission rates carefully, and make adjustments to the recommendations when the data warrants reconsideration,” he added. “Yet the effusive industry praise makes it seem as though there was political pressure to end masks now.”
Indeed, the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, the nursing home industry association, championed the updated guidance. In an emailed statement, Holly Harmon, senior vice president of quality, regulatory and clinical services, called it “welcome news for millions of nursing home residents, their families, and staff.”
“While our commitment to infection prevention and control continues, adapting COVID protocols means recognizing the current stage of this pandemic as well as the importance of quality of life for our nation’s seniors,” Harmon said in the statement shared with MedPage Today. “After more than two years, residents will get to see more of their caregivers’ smiling faces, and our dedicated staff will get a moment to breathe.”
Cheryl Clark contributed to this report.