OHA differing from CDC guidance on masks in health care settings

Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 5:53 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - The Oregon Health Authority says masks are still required in health care settings, despite recent relaxed guidance from the CDC.

The updated guidance from the CDC late last month says if COVID-19 transmission levels are not considered high in a county, then health care facilities can make masks optional.

But the OHA has doubled down on masks in health care settings. In the last day, OHA has released statement saying models predict a rise in COVID-19 infections by November, and a flu season that could be at pre-pandemic levels.

Masks are still required in Oregon hospitals, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, urgent cares, long-term care facilities, pharmacies, or any other medical practice.

Jennifer Irby, owner of Beaverton Pharmacy, supports the move.

“We still observe it because we are in close proximity with patients by helping them with home medical care,” said Irby.

Irby says this doesn’t come without challenges, especially when announcements from the CDC are typically what the general public looks at first.

“While people do hear the CDC recommendations, many times they do not understand that we’re OHA,” said Irby. “And so when sometimes OHA goes with CDC and sometimes doesn’t, it’s very confusing as a business owner to know what to tell our customers.”

Dr. Rhett Cummings, who specializes in treating respiratory illnesses at The Oregon Clinic, also supports OHA’s stance, saying the CDC changing its guidance may give people the wrong idea.

“The general public, and I think the CDC, may have miscommunicated or dropped the ball on the details of the communication,” said Cummings. “When we’re talking about community levels it’s not the same as community transmission.”

The CDC’s website says community transmission of COVID-19 is substantial or high in most counties across the country, even though overall community levels of Covid-19 in states like Oregon have been declining.

Dr. Cummings stresses it is important to understand this nuance in the data about community transmission of the virus versus overall number of cases. He adds and any steps that can be taken to prevent hospitals from being stretched thin this winter is critical.

“Staffing levels are extraordinarily low, all of the hospitals and systems across the country are at high strain,” said Cummings. “When you add flu on top of Covid, there’s a prediction that we’re going to have another surge.”