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Diagnostics COVID-19, Clinical care, Regulation and standards

Midnight for Masks

Since mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic, masks have been a somewhat divisive issue among the public. But questions over the benefits of mask wearing are not isolated to conspiracy theorists – researchers have heatedly debated the efficacy of masking to prevent infection well before the COVID-19 pandemic. With the worst of the pandemic (hopefully) behind us, some scientists are still evaluating whether masking remains a necessary precaution.

A recent opinion piece published in the Annals of Internal Medicine is just the latest discussion on mask strategy moving forward. The authors suggest that even though widespread use of masks among health care workers was justified, continued masking is unnecessary. Maintaining masking in all areas and instances, they argue, shows dwindling returns and delivers unwanted negative patient experiences. Moving forward, the authors recommend SARS-CoV-2 management to match other endemic respiratory viruses in healthcare settings, which is through correct and consistent application of Standard Precautions and Transmission-Based Precautions.

The paper goes on to explain that future outbreaks and pandemics may see widespread mask use adopted again – but there is a need to educate everyone in healthcare on the rationale of changing and updating policy. The authors note that this approach is consistent with that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee when reexamining Transmission-Based Precautions. This, the authors state, is “likely to inform future considerations for healthcare transmission mitigation strategies.”

The authors conclude with the notion that the dynamics between humans and infectious diseases are complex and ever-changing. In light of this – and in recognition of our developed understanding of SARS-CoV-2 since 2019 – the time to “deimplement policies” has arrived. In short, the clock may have struck midnight for universal masking – but for how long?

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  1. ES Shenoy, et al., “Universal Masking in Health Care Settings: A Pandemic Strategy Whose Time Has Come and Gone, For Now,” Ann Intern Med (2023). PMID: 37068281.
About the Author
George Francis Lee

Deputy Editor, The Pathologist

Interested in how disease interacts with our world. Writing stories covering subjects like politics, society, and climate change.

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