September 30, 2022
2 min read
The CDC no longer recommends universal masking in health care settings unless the facilities are in areas of high COVID-19 transmission, according to updated guidance posted on the agency’s website.
Per the new recommendations, facilities in areas without high transmission can “choose not to require” all doctors, patients and visitors to wear masks. This updated guidance was quietly issued by the CDC last week to give facilities the framework to implement “select infection prevention and control practices” based on local and individual circumstances.
The CDC said that these updates were made to reflect the high levels of vaccine- and infection-induced immunity, as well as the availability of effective treatments and prevention tools.
“SHEA anticipates that it may be hard for health care facilities to switch masking guidance back and forth based on COVID transmission metrics,” Sharon Wright, MD, MPH, president of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America and chief infection prevention officer, Beth Israel Lahey Health, told Healio. “With the traditional respiratory viral season fast approaching, it may be wise to consider retaining a universal masking policy in patient-facing areas for the protection of all who enter the health care setting.”
General indoor mask recommendations were previously relaxed in May 2021, when the CDC announced that fully vaccinated Americans — which at the time referred to people who had received either two doses of a messenger RNA vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — no longer needed to mask or social distance indoors.
Healio reported that the 2021 relaxation came after COVID-19 vaccines were made widely available to the general public, which led to a “sharp decrease” in cases. That guidance, however, did not apply to health care facilities, where universal masking remained in place.
Regardless of the new guidance, the CDC still recommends masking in health care settings for people who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 or other respiratory infections, people who have had close contact or a higher risk exposure with someone with COVID-19 and people who reside or work on a unit or area of the facility experiencing an outbreak, regardless of universal requirements and transmission rates.
“Most health care settings, including long-term care facilities, saw the positive impact of universal masking policies in preventing illness in patients and staff in the last 2 years, and we predict many will set policies to continue this practice during the winter months and reevaluate in the spring,” Wright said. “SHEA believes that well-fitting masks are an essential component in stopping the spread of COVID-19, along with vaccination.”