Either way, many experts aren’t happy about the CDC’s shift. “Doctors and other health care workers have an obligation to keep patients safe,” Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, MPH, the dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health in New Jersey, tells SELF. “We’re talking about patients potentially being in waiting rooms with people whose immune and vaccination status we don’t know.”
Amesh A. Adalja, MD, infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agrees; he says the issue comes down to “preventing transmission of respiratory viruses from health care workers to patients.”
Plus, some experts argue that if any place should keep universal face mask requirements in check, it’s health care settings. “This is where people go when they’re not sure if they’re sick—and where people go to feel better, not worse,” Jeremy Faust, MD, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, tells SELF. “For people like me who work in health care, we’ve got to look at ourselves and say, ‘Have we been spreading all kinds of viruses over the years? Not just COVID, but the flu and other respiratory pathogens?’ I think we have to say that we were.” Because of this, Dr. Faust stresses health care settings are “the last place I’d like to see mask mandates go away.”
So who will still mask up in health care settings?
It really depends on your doctors office. Health care providers who work with high-risk patients, like pediatricians, cardiologists, endocrinologists, and oncologists, are more likely to keep stricter masking policies in place, Dr. Schaffner says. If you’re not sure what to expect before your next appointment, definitely give the office a call beforehand so you’re up to date on any policy changes and able to ask questions.
Then, all you can do is focus on what is in your control before, during, and after your appointment—which may include investing in a high-quality N95 mask if you haven’t already, as well as practicing other precautions like keeping your hands away from your face, washing or sanitizing your hands frequently, and trying to keep your distance from people who show potential signs of illness (like coughing or sneezing).
“Masks do provide protection against COVID, RSV, and influenza,” Dr. Schaffner says. So, whether you’re immunocompromised or generally healthy and boosted, it certainly doesn’t hurt to wear one in public, especially at the doctor’s office. After all, the importance of taking care of each other—and the simple steps we can take to do that—shouldn’t be a lesson we forget so soon.