Changing CDC mask guidelines have left your practice scrambling to keep up. Must you require your patients and employees to mask up, or can you move to making masks optional? Making the wrong decision could lead you to angry patients, enforcement actions, and potential lawsuits.
New CDC Mask Guidelines
On February 25th, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines on when masks should be worn indoors.
Under old guidelines, which relied only on county-level case counts to determine whether indoor masking should be required, 91 percent of counties across the country were considered high risk for transmission. In these counties, indoor masking was recommended for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.
However, when the CDC changed the way it calculates high-risk transmission, the number of counties considered high risk dropped overnight to just 37.3 percent nationally. This change left a lot of confusion in its wake.
The CDC’s new metrics to calculate transmission risks include:
The CDC has a tool that allows you to easily see what risk level your county falls under.
If your practice is in a county with low transmission rates, indoor masking is not required or recommended. For moderate-risk counties, indoor masking is only recommended for those who are at a high risk for severe illness. Counties with high transmission risks should still practice indoor masking.
What This Means for Your Practice
These new CDC mask guidelines may change masking rules in your practice.
If you are in a county with moderate or low transmission and you do not have any statewide mask mandates in place, your practice can elect to make masks optional for patients and staff. Should your practice choose to make this move, communicating the change (and the possibility of a return to required masking) clearly to everyone involved.
1. Send emails to all staff and current patients (if possible): In this email, detail the date your practice will be mask-optional, and that current CDC mask guidelines have changed. Stress that all staff members should keep masks close at hand and that patients can request their care team wear masks during treatment. Be sure to note that masking requirements in your practice are subject to change based on country metrics and CDC guidelines.
2. Put signs up around your practice: These signs should include that you are a mask-optional practice and the date this policy is effective. Note that patients can request that staff wear masks at any time, and that these rules are subject to change.
3. Add a pop-up to your website (if applicable): If your practice maintains a website or social media profiles, post the notice of this policy change there so everyone has access to the information.
In high transmission areas, the CDC mask guidelines do still state that masks should be worn indoors, and your practice must comply with these recommendations. However, because your county’s metrics can change from week to week, it’s a good idea to begin planning for a change to masks being optional now so you can be ready.
A Note About Hospital-Linked Practices
If your practice is located in or adjacent to a hospital, or you otherwise provide hospital-based services, you may still be required to wear masks. The CDC mask guidelines have not changed for hospital services, so check with the appropriate personnel (and legal counsel, if necessary) to see how your practice should respond.
Knowing what your practice needs to do to keep everyone safe and comply with laws and regulations surrounding COVID-19 isn’t easy. Ever-changing guidelines that come from multiple sources make it even more likely that you’ll slip up and find your practice facing fines and legal action. Get step-by-step guidance to help you comply with OSHA safety regulations in Healthcare Training Leader’s upcoming online training, Stop OSHA Fines: Comply w/2022 COVID Practice Safety Rules. In this 60-minute training on Tuesday, March 22nd at 1pm ET, employment attorney and OSHA litigator, Matthew Deffebach, JD, walks you through the latest requirements to keep your practice compliant. Register for this important training today.
|Subscribe to Healthcare Practice Advisor|
|Get actionable advice to help improve your practice’s
reimbursement, compliance, and success in this weekly eNewsletter.