The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee is on the cusp of approving updated guidelines for hospital infection control. Anticipating changes in policy, healthcare professionals are expressing apprehension about whether these new strategies prioritize fiscal concerns over health and safety.
At the heart of these worries lies the suggestion that surgical masks could offer the same protection against respiratory infections as N-95 masks during routine care. Drafted by the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC), these guidelines represent the first significant amendments since 2007. While the guidelines are not obligatory, they typically inform the standards applied by worker safety organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The necessity for improved infection control became starkly apparent through the tragic loss of over 4,500 physicians between early 2020 and December 2021, a statistic that exceeded expectations by nearly 600. Notably, these guidelines do not integrate lessons from the recent pandemic, according to David Michaels, M.D., an epidemiologist and professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health, and former head of OSHA. He criticizes the committee’s decision to depend on controversial evidence that suggests surgical and N95 mask efficacy are comparable. Michaels argues that the committee’s perspective on infection control is outdated and hospital-centric, lacking necessary expertise in worker protection and aerosol science.
Once the committee finalizes its vote, the draft guidelines will go to the CDC for further approval. Following a 60-day commentary period, potentially resulting in further revisions, the final guidelines’ release is not expected until 2024.