The change in mask guidelines for healthcare is dangerous, unethical and based on flawed data
Please join us by signing our petition to advocate for masks in healthcare settings.
Just in time for flu season, with 300-400 US residents dying from COVID-19 daily, the CDC revised its infection control guidelines regarding mask-wearing in healthcare settings, from hospitals and clinics to home care providers and nursing homes. The new guideline recommended masks only need to be worn in healthcare settings when COVID Community Transmission rates are high, based on the CDC map. This change is dangerous, unethical and based on flawed data.
Below is the petition text, which we encourage others to use in part or total for your own advocacy purposes. It includes links to the relevant information referenced in our petition.
People’s CDC petition to To: President Joe Biden, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ashish Jha
As healthcare workers, patients, parents and caregivers, we urge public health officials and healthcare organizations, including hospitals, clinics, physician and dentist offices, nursing homes, and home health care services to require masking in all healthcare settings, and to provide masks (ideally N95 respirators) for everyone in those settings. The recently revised CDC guidance, which permits patients and staff at healthcare institutions to remove masks when “levels of Community Transmission” are not “high,” is dangerous, unethical and based on flawed data.
REMOVING MASKS IN HEALTHCARE IS DANGEROUS.
In the past year nearly 330,000 people in the US died from COVID-19, and COVID-19 was the 3rd leading US cause of death in 2020 and 2021. As of October 2022, 300-400 people in the US continue to die daily of COVID and nursing home deaths from COVID have been increasing for the past four months. And the threat looms of multiple new variants, which are highly transmissible and have mutations that could enable them to evade existing vaccines and treatments.
Clinics and hospitals are sites for COVID patient care, so even when transmission rates are low, they will remain among the most likely locations to encounter people infected with COVID (as well as people who are vulnerable to severe disease or death from COVID). Contagion in healthcare settings is already a problem even in well-equipped US academic medical centers. In January 2022, over 3,000 people weekly became infected with COVID-19 in US hospitals, including 4,734 in just one day, according to an analysis of federal data. Removing masks in healthcare puts both patients and healthcare workers at risk, which could place even more strain on the healthcare system amidst severe staffing shortages.
REMOVING MASKS IN HEALTHCARE IS UNETHICAL.
Failing to require masks in healthcare settings violates the medical ethical principles of nonmaleficence and autonomy. Patients come to clinics and hospitals to improve their health. Healthcare providers have an ethical responsibility to DO NO HARM and ensure that they do not expose them to COVID.
Universal masking with N95 respirators and high quality masks is more effective than one-way masking at preventing COVID infection. The recommendation embodies the widely-recognized healthcare principle of universal precautions. COVID-19 is an airborne pathogen, meaning it spreads in the air when infected people breathe, speak, cough or sneeze. Universal precautions for airborne pathogens include universal masking with high-filtration N95 or better respirators. Respirators and high-quality masks protect the wearer and those around them by decreasing the burden of COVID-19 virus in the air. Because approximately 40% of COVID cases are asymptomatic, and many people may be infectious before they develop symptoms, it is utterly inadequate to require masks only for symptomatic people. Children and babies who cannot or may not wear masks and people in clinical situations that do not permit mask-wearing (such as post operative units) need others to protect them by wearing masks. Without universal masking precautions in healthcare, vulnerable people face substantial risk of being exposed in waiting rooms or clinical settings against their will, violating their autonomy, and deterring many from seeking much-needed care.
Vaccines alone are insufficient to prevent COVID-19 spread. Although vaccines lower the risk of hospitalization and death, even fully vaccinated and boosted people can die from COVID-19, especially older adults and people who are immunocompromised. Vaccinated and boosted people can also develop Long COVID, which may affect as many as one in five people after COVID infection. Long COVID is keeping as many as 4 million people in the US out of work. Masking is essential, along with vaccines, ventilation, and other measures, to prevent COVID-related disability and death.
CDC POLICY TO REMOVE MASKS IN HEALTHCARE IS BASED ON FLAWED DATA.
The CDC’s new policy relies on the Community Transmission map, which grossly underestimates COVID-19 infection rates. Back in September 2021 the CDC estimated that only 1 in 4 COVID cases were reported. But a spring 2022 study suggested that infections in New York City were underestimated by a factor of 30, and modelers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) have stated that only 4-5% of infections are reported. This is because far fewer people are testing for COVID as much required routine testing has ended, federal funding for COVID testing has diminished, and most rapid tests are not reported. Further, most low-wage workers don’t have paid sick time, and many are incentivized or compelled to go to work with COVID, or to avoid testing.
In conclusion, we urge public health officials and healthcare organizations to keep our communities safer from COVID-19, by requiring and providing high-quality masks for all. The healthcare system should be a place of healing, where the risk of acquiring infections is minimized. As stewards of public health, we urge you to act in the best interests of the most vulnerable among us.
Sincerely, the undersigned.