CDC Issues Overhaul to Mask Mandate in Hospitals and Nursing Homes

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Health care workers are seen in a recent file photo. (Ariana Drehsler/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a change to its guidance late last week and will no longer require nursing homes and hospitals to require masking in some areas.

In a revision on Sept. 23, the CDC said that nursing home facilities and hospitals in a number of areas without “high” community transmission can choose not to require” all doctors, patients, and visitors to wear masks. It’s one of many changes to the CDC’s COVID-19 guidance since August when the agency’s leadership announced an overhaul of how it responds to pandemics.

“Updates were made to reflect the high levels of vaccine-and infection-induced immunity and the availability of effective treatments and prevention tools,” the CDC said.

Recent CDC data used to inform health care facilities shows that about 73 percent of counties in the United States are seeing “high” community transmission of COVID-19. About 26.9 percent, meanwhile, are meeting low, moderate, or substantial transmission, according to the data, indicating that facilities in those areas don’t have to mandate masks.

“Community transmission 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 stated in its updated guidance.

Early on in the pandemic, the CDC recommended everyone wear masks or respirators in health care facilities or nursing homes. Exceptions were later included visitors who choose not to wear masks if they had updated COVID-19 vaccines and were alone with the person they were visiting.

“Vaccination status is no longer used to inform source control, screening testing, or post-exposure recommendations,” the guidance now says.

Holly Harmon, a senior vice president for the American Health Care Association as well as the National Center for Assisted Living, praised the recent CDC guidance change.

“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, reported CBS News.

Overhaul

In mid-August, new guidelines published by the federal agency no longer recommend staying at least six feet away from other people to reduce exposure.

And the agency stated at the time that it’s no longer recommending unvaccinated people to quarantine after exposure. Unvaccinated people who have been in close contact with an infected person aren’t advised to go through a five-day quarantine period if they haven’t tested positive or shown symptoms.

“CDC’s COVID-19 prevention recommendations no longer differentiate based on a person’s vaccination status because breakthrough infections occur, though they are generally mild, and persons who have had COVID-19 but are not vaccinated have some degree of protection against severe illness from their previous infection,” the CDC said at the time amid additional announced changes.

But notably, the CDC is still requiring non-citizen international travelers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before entering the United States, according to its website. The agency dropped testing for international travelers in June.

The Canadian government on Monday is ending its requirements that travelers crossing the U.S.–Canada border have to show proof of vaccination starting Oct. 1.