A senior man in a mask
Credit: Predrag Popovski/Getty Images Plus

Providers are urging the federal government to “not leave long-term care residents behind” after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday announced relaxed masking guidelines for about 70% of the country. 

The CDC’s updated recommendations allows people in counties with low and medium levels of COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks in indoor public settings. Masks are still recommended in public indoor settings where there are high levels of COVID-19. 

The updated guidelines did not specifically address healthcare settings so what has previously been in place will prevail in those locations until further notice. Experts noted that immunocompromised people in places that no longer require mask wearing should still ask their doctor before going without one.

“News from the CDC today that our country has entered a new phase of the pandemic is certainly positive,” Katie Smith Sloan, LeadingAge president and CEO, said in a statement Friday. 

“While a shift toward pre-pandemic life is exciting, we remind America that a return to ‘normal’ is important for older adults living in long-term care, too. These communities are home to millions of residents who deserve parity with the rest of the country,” she said. 

She added that the CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services should move “quickly in reassessing guidance for long term care settings. Do not leave long-term care residents behind.”

The American Medical Association said federal officials must always consider that millions of people in the U.S. are immunocompromised, more susceptible to severe COVID outcomes, or still too young to be eligible for the vaccine, and masking is a way to protect them. 

“Although masks may no longer be required indoors in many parts of the U.S., we know that wearing a well-fitted mask is an effective way to protect ourselves and our communities, including the most vulnerable, from COVID-19 — particularly in indoor settings when physical distancing is not possible,” AMA President and CEO Gerald Harmon, M.D., said in a statement. 

“Wearing a mask, physical distancing, and staying home if you’re sick are small, but important protective measure that can help us all stay safe,” he added.