New CDC Guidelines on Masks in Hospitals Raise Concerns for Health Care Professionals

New CDC Guidelines on Masks in Hospitals Raise Concerns for Health Care Professionals

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently come under fire for draft guidelines that could potentially reduce the level of protection against the coronavirus and other airborne pathogens in hospitals. The CDC’s advisory committee responsible for updating infection control standards in hospitals released a draft of their proposals in June, stating that N95 face masks are equivalent to surgical masks in certain settings. This conclusion caused outrage among healthcare professionals and scientists who worry that this could put doctors and nurses at risk when treating patients infected with common viruses.

The committee was scheduled to vote on these changes in August but has since postponed the decision until November. Once the guidelines are finalized, hospitals throughout the United States typically follow them. Concerns have been raised, especially with the rise in COVID-19 cases nationwide.

Gwendolyn Hill, a research intern at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, emphasized the importance of N95 masks, ventilation, and air-purifying technology in lowering transmission rates and preventing patients from leaving hospitals sicker than they came. While the CDC maintains that the draft guidelines are not final, many healthcare professionals are concerned about the potential impact on patient and healthcare worker safety.

The CDC’s draft conclusions contradict previous reports that support the efficacy of N95 masks. The CDC’s own 2022 report found that N95 masks reduced the odds of testing positive for the coronavirus by 83%, compared to 66% for surgical masks and 56% for cloth masks. Additionally, a large clinical trial in 2017 showed that N95 masks were far superior to surgical masks in protecting healthcare workers from influenza infections.

The categorization of airborne pathogens by the committee has also raised concerns among researchers and occupational safety experts. The committee suggested that surgical masks be used for “common, endemic” viruses, while reserving N95 masks for more severe threats like measles and tuberculosis. However, virologists argue that the spread of a pathogen is not solely determined by its prevalence and that many viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, can travel significant distances on microscopic droplets in the air.

Critics of the CDC’s draft guidelines urge caution and call for further studies to ensure the effectiveness of N95 masks against airborne pathogens. They emphasize the importance of well-fitted masks and rest breaks to address any potential discomfort experienced by healthcare personnel while wearing N95 masks.


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– CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
– KFF Health News

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