On February 25, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its face masking guidance (once again).
Regardless of vaccination status, individuals are now advised to refer to the CDC’s COVID-19 Community Level data to help guide face masking decisions. Under the new guidance, approximately 70% of the U.S. population lives in an area considered to be low or medium risk, and residents there are advised that they can go indoors without masks.
The CDC emphasized, however, that people should still wear masks if they wish, or if they are immunocompromised. Further, regardless of local conditions, individuals should mask if they have COVID-19 symptoms, a positive test, or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
What does this mean for employers? For those in the healthcare sector, nothing. Regarding healthcare employers, the CDC states:
“CDC’s new COVID-19 Community Levels recommendations do not apply in healthcare settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes. Instead, healthcare settings should continue to use community transmission rates and continue to follow CDC’s infection prevention and control recommendations for healthcare settings.”
Understandably, this has caused some confusion for healthcare employers, many of whom may have employees asking why masks are still required if community levels are “Low.” The short answer is that the CDC bases healthcare recommendations upon metrics derived from the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker, which tracks different information than the CDC’s Community Level data. Thus, even though community levels may be “Low,” community transmission may be “High,” hence requiring continued masking in healthcare settings.
If you are not in the healthcare sector, OSHA is expected to adopt or partially adopt the CDC’s recommendations, but it has not yet commented on the CDC change. Accordingly, many employers may reconsider removing or relaxing their masking policies in locations with low community levels. However, before removing mask mandates, employers should conduct an individualized assessment of the COVID threat in their workplace.
Of course, employers are still permitted to maintain stricter face masking policies, and should accommodate employees who want to continue to mask, especially those who are immunocompromised. Finally, before making any changes, employers should review their local and state masking requirements and continue to comply with those requirements.