Touting advancements in prevention and management of SARS-CoV-2 since the pathogen was initially identified in 2019, healthcare epidemiologists and infectious disease experts from eight institutions say now is the time to end policies mandating universal masking in healthcare settings – at least for now. The commentary is published in Annals of Internal Medicine.
The authors say that throughout the pandemic, widespread use of universal masking in healthcare settings was justifiable for reducing the risk of transmission between health care personnel, patients, and visitors, and preserving the healthcare workforce to maintain operations during surges. Universal masking was one element of a larger bundle of strategies implemented to limit transmission during a time when little was known about the pathogen and effective interventions had not yet been identified. Since then, the burden of SARS-CoV-2 has been mitigated through access to testing, substantial population-level immunity acquired over time, emergence of less virulent variants, and widespread availability and use of vaccines and treatments. This means the time has come to manage SARS-CoV-2 as other endemic respiratory viruses using correct and consistent application of Standard and Transmission-based Precautions. These include health care personnel use of masks and eye protection when engaging in activities that generate splashes or sprays to the face, regardless of patient symptoms, and masking of patients when symptoms are present, among other precautions.
In addition to ending universal masking, the experts suggest that other pandemic-era strategies, such as asymptomatic testing and contact tracing, should be reconsidered in the endemic era.
Materials provided by the American College of Physicians. Content may be edited for clarity, style, and length.