No Need for Universal Masking in Hospitals, Experts Say

A group of medical experts is proposing that universal masking in healthcare settings is no longer necessary in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The experts argue that healthcare settings should treat the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 like other endemic respiratory pathogens, using standard infection control practices. These practices require healthcare providers to wear a mask and eye protection when doing activities that could generate sprays to the face. Patients and visitors with respiratory symptoms should also wear a mask while in healthcare settings.

The experts argue that while maintaining universal masking in healthcare settings may marginally reduce the risk of transmission, masks could impede communication, especially for those who are hard-of-hearing or who do not speak English as a first language. Masks also contribute to feelings of isolation and negatively impact interactions between doctors and patients. The authors suggest that healthcare providers should stick with standard infection control practices, including requiring workers to wear a mask and eye protection when doing activities that could generate sprays to the face.

However, some healthcare facilities may decide to implement universal masking for staff interacting with high-risk patients, such as solid organ transplant recipients, people undergoing cancer chemotherapy, and others who are severely immunocompromised.

While the pandemic of COVID-19 is no longer making headlines, the disease is still around, and new variants continue to pop up. Vaccination provides protection against severe illness and death, but protection against infection wanes in the months following vaccination or a prior infection. With few mask-related policies in place, people will need to decide for themselves how much COVID-19-related risk they are comfortable with, and what steps to take.

The experts argue that at this stage in the pandemic, masking is only one tool to reduce overall transmission, and there should be a calculus weighing risks and benefits. While some applaud the shift toward treating the coronavirus as endemic, people with compromised immune systems and others at high risk say they now have to choose between getting the virus at the doctor’s office and avoiding necessary medical care.


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