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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revised its guidelines to say that universal masking in health care settings may not be required if community transmission levels of COVID-19 are low.
The new guidelines also state that health care professionals “could choose not to wear” masks “when they are in well-defined areas that are restricted from patient access,” such as staff meeting rooms, when community spread of COVID-19 is not high.
However, even if masking is not universally required, it remains recommended for individuals in health care settings who have had close contact with a patient or visitor with COVID-19 or suspected to have COVID-19 or other respiratory infection. The guidelines mention runny nose, coughing or sneezing as signs of infection. Masking is also recommended if a health care worker resides or works in a unit or area of the facility experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.
The guidelines state that universal use of masks “could be discontinued as a mitigation measure once no new cases have been identified for 14 days.”
Health care “facilities might also consider using or recommending (masks) when caring for patients who are moderately to severely immunocompromised,” the guidelines state.
The CDC also wrote that as community transmission levels increase, “the potential for encountering asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic patients” with COVID-19 infection also
“likely increases” and in “these circumstances, health care facilities should consider implementing broader use of respirators and eye protection by (health care professionals) during patient care encounters.”
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has historically updated its guidelines following CDC recommendations and is expected to institute a permanent COVID-19 standard for health care workers by the end of the year, has not updated its COVID-19 page since August 2021.