Debate over masking in healthcare settings persists post-PHE

Now is not the time to do away with masks in healthcare settings, two infectious disease physicians wrote in a commentary published May 16 in Annals of Internal Medicine, an indication that the debate over whether hospitals should continue to mandate masking is not wavering any time soon. 

"Although gold-standard evidence is not available, we argue that, despite the lack of clinical efficacy trials (as with the widely accepted practice of hand hygiene), masking in interactions between patients and healthcare personnel should continue to receive serious consideration as a patient safety measure," wrote Tara Palmore, MD, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Washington, D.C.-based George Washington University, and David Henderson, MD, of the NIH Clinical Center. 

They highlighted the "notorious" prevalence of presenteeism in healthcare, or when staff show up to work while ill, as a key factor to support continued use of masking after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

"Hospitals serving elderly and immunocompromised patients, such as oncology patients and stem-cell and organ transplant recipients, face challenges when deescalating measures that protect these patient populations," the physicians wrote. 

The commentary comes about one month after researchers published findings from a large hospital in London that indicated removing mask rules for visitors and staff did not result in a "statistically significant change" in the rate of COVID-19 infections. 

Dozens of U.S. hospitals have walked back universal masking since March.


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