CDC on Friday issued updated guidance saying that universal masking is no longer required in health care facilities unless those facilities are located in an area of high Covid-19 transmission.
With the new guidance, "updates were made to reflect the high levels of vaccine- and infection-induced immunity and the availability of effective treatments and prevention tools," CDC's guidance states.
Now, CDC says health care facilities, including nursing homes and hospitals, can "choose not to require" universal masking among doctors, patients, and visitors if community Covid-19 transmission levels are not high.
"Community transmission is the metric currently recommended to guide select practices in health care settings to allow for earlier intervention, before there is strain on the healthcare system and to better protect the individuals seeking care in these settings," CDC's guidance said.
By CDC's community transmission metric, 73% of counties in the United States are currently rated at "high" risk, CBS News reports.
When health care facilities are in areas of high transmission, CDC recommends universal masking for those in areas of the facility where patients could be encountered. However, health care providers can elect not to wear a mask if they're in "well-defined areas" restricted from patients, like staff meeting rooms.
Masking "remains recommended" during a Covid-19 outbreak among patients or "when caring for patients who are moderately to severely immunocompromised," the guidance states.
CDC also changed previous guidance saying people who previously had a Covid-19 infection didn't need to test for the disease if they were exposed within 90 days of that infection. The new guidance states that testing "should be considered for those who have recovered in the prior 31-90 days."
Holly Harmon, SVP for the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, praised the new guidance.
"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," she said.
She added that, "[a]fter 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."
However, Megan Ranney, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said in a tweet she was concerned that health care facilities with high levels of Covid-19 transmission "can unmask sick patients who haven't yet been tested for Covid, right next to the elderly, chemo patients, people with pulmonary diseases, and pregnant women."
Former Surgeon General Jerome Adams in a tweet also criticized the guidance, saying that CDC is making "a recommendation they know will end masking … while also admitting it's too early to do so."
"This nuanced have your cake and eat it too approach hasn't worked a single time throughout the pandemic," he added. "People hear 'no more masks!'"
According to Adams, "unless you're specifically going to tell people to wear N95s (and not just any mask), and ensure private rooms in [health care] settings, it's the equivalent of having a smoking and non-smoking section on a plane." (Murez/Foster, U.S News & World Report, 9/26; Weixel, The Hill, 9/26; Tin, CBS News, 9/23)
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