CDC Needs to Fix Its Mask Madness (Updated)

Added: I wrote this on Saturday, and since then, this happened (boldface mine):

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plans to notify hospitals that patients should be allowed to wear their N95s when entering, said Ives-Rublee, who works at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. CMS also wants to ensure patients know where to lodge complaints if a facility requests someone remove their mask or doesn’t follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. Next week, CMS plans to discuss the matter with state survey agencies, which consider complaints about health care facilities, two of the people familiar said…

Ives-Rublee, who has pushed the CDC to require high-quality masks, particularly in health care settings, told POLITICO she participated in a meeting on Friday during which an agency official said they don’t recommend broad use of N95s because people wear them incorrectly.

Health care workers often undergo fit-testing to ensure a N95 seals properly, but research shows that a N95 doesn’t need to be fit-tested to provide superior protection to a surgical mask. While once in short supply, N95s are now widely available. The federal government earlier this year started providing free N95s for the public through pharmacies…

Though public health experts have urged the Biden administration for over a year to recommend N95s for all, the CDC has not done so. The agency and the White House have argued that even in hospitals, surgical masks provide sufficient protection in many situations, despite the CDC’s research showing that N95s provide much better protection.

The inability to incorporate their own research is still incomprehensible. With that as prelude, the original post:

I’ve seen this too often as well–people wearing NIOSH-approved N95 masks being told they have to remove them and wear a far less protective surgical mask instead (boldface mine):

The hospital, Munson Healthcare, said it requests visitors wear the surgical masks it provides to ensure people are using quality masks and that it allows visitors to layer one over their own. The hospital is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and for many public health advocates, that’s exactly the problem.

They fear that surgical masks put the most vulnerable people at higher risk of catching Covid-19. N95s, which seal tighter to the face, offer better protection against the airborne virus, studies show. For more than a year, many have called on the Biden administration to change its guidance to offer more protection inside hospitals, even as mitigation measures have been dialed back and case counts decline.

And yet, patients across the country say they are often told to replace their N95s with surgical masks as they enter hospitals. One woman said she was told her mask could be carrying Covid on its surface. A Chicago facility, Northwestern Medicine, said it asks visitors to replace or cover their masks with a surgical mask provided by the hospital for quality control. And inside many hospitals, doctors and nurses often don surgical masks when treating patients, all in line with CDC recommendations.

“It’s baffling,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist who has advised the Biden administration on its pandemic response. “This is something where the CDC has been on the wrong side for a long time.

Even Ezekiel Emanuel gets it! Unfortunately:

A recent POLITICO analysis found that more than 3,000 patients were infected with Covid each week in January, during the Omicron wave.

Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease specialist who advises the Biden administration, said there is “no doubt” that the lack of the more-protective face masks contributed to those grim totals.

Osterholm wrote to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and other senior officials shortly after the inauguration, urging the CDC to recommend N95s for all workers.

No one responded, he said…

“The CDC has been years behind on the science,” said Osterholm, one of the advisers to the administration.

What makes this all the more ridiculous is that N95 masks all have a NIOSH certification stamp on them. NIOSH is part of the CDC. Maybe the mask people should go talk to NIOSH?

Throughout the entire pandemic, parts of the CDC have been absolutely baffling to me. They are either woefully behind the current state of the science or else they have motivations that don’t make any sense. Why they wouldn’t at least allow N95s, if not encourage their use just doesn’t seem to make any sense. If there is a logic to it, they certainly haven’t explained it. Because they haven’t been forced to explain it–which will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

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4 Responses to CDC Needs to Fix Its Mask Madness (Updated)

  1. jrs says:

    Theory 1: they want us all dead. Ok, ok … Theory 2: if masks remind people it’s not normal, N95s do even more so. Theory 3: it’s some kind of ” theory-induced blindness” from always being told N95s must be fit tested (which yes in high risk situations and for something like Ebola you’ll want much more than an N95, but not compared to cloth or surgical masks which is the actual situation we are dealing with!)

  2. David Derbes says:

    I have a story for you. I went in for a EKG at a highly regarded hospital in Chicago (not Northwestern), and left the technician who had been wearing a paper surgical mask with two Happy Life/Good Day Korean KN94s. I have a nephew whose wife is on San Francisco’s mayor’s COVID team; he and his wife researched masks a year ago and found these were among the very best. I wear ’em all the time. Have yet to contract the damned virus.

    Two days later, I went in to get a heart monitor, and by chance saw the same technician, now wearing the same sort of paper surgical mask. I said, how did you like the other masks? She said, I liked it very much, but when I came into work wearing it, *I was told I couldn’t, to take it off, and use this one instead.* What the hell is the hospital hierarchy thinking? It’s more important to them that everyone wear the same mask, even if that is not a very good one??

  3. dr2chase says:

    If I can’t wear an N-95 while donating blood or platelets, I won’t. They have their policies, I have mine.

  4. John says:

    Lead poisoning: some of those who grew up in lead atmosphere because sociopathic criminals in their young adulthood, leading to high crime in minority neighborhoods affected by traffic-jammed freeways built through their neighborhoods.

    These days, middle-aged to elderly lead-poisoned brains may control data analysis, understanding, and policy in top leadership positions.

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