CDC loosens mask mandates for healthcare facilities

The federal government is no longer recommending universal masking in healthcare facilities, according to new CDC recommendations quietly published last week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention edict issued Friday reversed nearly two and a half of years of guidance in saying that face coverings are now only required in hospitals and nursing homes where transmission of COVID-19 is high.

Facilities can now “choose not to require” that patients, doctors and visitors wear masks at all time if transmission of the virus is low. The guidance also applies to home health care, and could be overridden by local measures, the CDC said. It does not apply to non-healthcare settings.

A pedestrian is seen outside the emergency room of NYU Langone while wearing a mask in December of 2021.
A pedestrian is seen outside the emergency room of NYU Langone while wearing a mask in December of 2021.
Xinhua News Agency via Getty Ima
Signs requiring masks are seen outside a building.
The CDC said mask wearing would be optional at healthcare facilities that were outside areas of high transmission.
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An exterior shot of CDC headquarters in Atlanta.
The CDC quietly issued the new guidance on Friday.

Caregivers who work with immunocompromised patients or in parts of facilities experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks should still mask up, regardless of transmission levels, the agency said.

Community transmission defines the amount of COVID-19 spread and “is the metric currently recommended to guide select practices in healthcare 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,” the CDC says.

“Updates were made to reflect the high levels of vaccine-and infection-induced immunity and the availability of effective treatments and prevention tools,” the agency wrote as a rationale for the relaxed guidance.

The reversal of guidelines introduced in April of 2020 was criticized by some healthcare experts who deemed it counterproductive.

“This nuanced have your cake and eat it too approach hasn’t worked A SINGLE TIME throughout the pandemic. People hear “no more masks!,” tweeted Jerome Adams, who served as US surgeon general for most of former President Donald Trump’s administration.

“The @CDCgov saying that healthcare settings can choose to not require masks not only endangers vulnerable patients, but everyone since it also makes healthcare workers more susceptible to getting sick,” tweeted Dr. Zachary Rubin, an Illinois pediatric allergist and clinical immunologist.

“There may be less access to care for all as we head into winter.”

Sixty-nine percent of US counties were experiencing rates of high transmission Wednesday, including the entire New York City metro area, according to CDC data. Seven percent of US counties were areas of “high risk” as of Sept. 22, the agency said.