Health systems are looking forward to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new focus on hospital beds and admissions to determine a community's COVID-19 risk level, though they are concerned about pulling back safety precautions amid an ongoing pandemic.
The CDC said Friday that hospital capacity and pandemic-related hospitalizations will be factored into local mask guidelines, as part of the Biden administration's long-term pandemic strategy.
Under the new guidance, around 70% of the U.S. population is categorized as residents of low- or medium-risk areas and can go indoors without masks. The CDC still recommends individuals use masks in communities where serious COVID-19 cases are constricting the local health system.
While it is reasonable to reassess public masking guidance due to the recent downtrend in COVID-19 cases, face coverings keep staff and immunocompromised, vulnerable patients safe and should still be used, said Avinash Virk, an infectious disease consultant at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
"We will still be requiring our patients and visitors to be masked so we can keep everybody within our institution safe and keep functioning to provide the healthcare that people need," Virk said.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente said they will continue to require patients, visitors and employees to wear masks.
Even as other community settings drop mask use, health systems will keep prioritizing patient health, Nancy Foster, the American Hospital Association's vice president for quality and patient safety policy, said in a statement.