Experts Say Precautionary Masking For COVID In Medical Settings Is No Longer Needed

Healthcare settings have been among a few of the remaining environments in which masking has continued to be encouraged or required amongst patients and physicians. In a scientific commentary recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the authors acknowledged that universal masking was once a necessary precaution back when the country faced a lack of COVID-19 treatment therapies, vaccines, herd immunity, and had limited testing availability. However, the authors suggest that the need for precautionary masking in medical settings may now be a thing of the past.

As the U.S. has become more adept at combating the pandemic, experts are reevaluating whether or not long-standing precautionary measures are now proving more harmful than helpful over time. The authors noted that while masking may help minimize the risk of viral transfer from one person to another within a healthcare setting, the degree of risk-reduction is relatively minor.

Rather, the authors make the case for resorting to standard masking measures used to manage similar endemic respiratory viruses in medical settings. Rather than wearing a mask all the time, such precautions would include physician masking only in specific instances — for instance, when they're in close proximity to a patient's face.

Benefits versus drawbacks of no longer requiring universal masking in healthcare settings

As outlined in the commentary, the authors highlight how continued masking makes it difficult for doctors to establish trust and effectively communicate with patients. This is particularly true for patients who may not speak English or are hard of hearing, as most masks do not allow for lip reading or the interpretation of facial expressions.

While doing away with masking in healthcare settings may have benefits to offer, some experts (both in the U.S. as well as other countries) feel that doing so places those who are most susceptible to infection at risk. "[T]he removal of mask mandates has a disproportionate impact on marginalized people, seniors, and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable," B.C.'s Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender said in a statement early this month in response to the lifting of mask mandates in British Columbia, Canada. "If there is one space that all vulnerable people should be able to rely on to prioritize their safety, it is in healthcare settings, including long-term care facilities."

All in all, the authors of the article emphasize that precautionary masking is no longer needed in healthcare settings "for now," they write. However, some experts believe there is still a middle ground to be found (via CBC News).