Healthcare Workers Urge CDC to Reconsider Proposed Mask Guidance

 In Nurses Weekly

Concern is mounting among healthcare workers over draft CDC infection control guidance that puts surgical masks on par with N95 masks. Nurses and other clinicians are urging the advisory committee to reconsider the proposals to prevent “disastrous” effects on patient and healthcare worker safety, KFF News reported Sept. 16.

The advisory committee released a draft of its proposals in June, which concluded there is no difference in protection offered by N95s compared to surgical masks. The proposal also recommended surgical masks be worn for “common, endemic” viruses “for which individuals are expected to have some immunity,” with N95s reserved for “pandemic-phase” viruses when a pathogen is new and little immunity exists. Virologists and other experts who commented on the proposal said common viruses like the flu can still harm vulnerable populations and that many viruses can travel significant distances.

The assessments were met with sharp criticism by many healthcare workers who worry that if finalized, the guidance would reduce protection against the coronavirus and other airborne pathogens in hospitals.

“If they end up codifying these standards of care, it will have a disastrous impact on patient safety and our ability to respond to future health crises,” Rocelyn de Leon-Minch, an industrial hygienist for National Nurses United, told KFF.

Assessments in the proposed guidance run counter to a CDC report from 2022, which found N95s cut the chance of testing positive for coronavirus by 83 percent, compared to 66 percent for surgical masks.

The CDC committee held a public meeting Aug. 22 to vote on the changes, but postponed the vote until early November. Following that meeting, NNU called the proposals “antiscience” and said the committee did not address its concerns during the public comment portion of the call.

Ahead of the November vote, a CDC official said the agency is “very happy to receive feedback.”

“It is our goal to develop a guideline that is protective of patients, visitors and health workers,” Alexander Kallen, MD, chief of the prevention and response branch in the CDC’s division of healthcare quality, told KFF, underscoring that the draft guidelines are not final.

(This story originally appeared in Becker’s Hospital Review.)

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