Occupational Medicine is responsible for treating workplace injuries, illnesses, and exposures and advising patients and employer organizations on how to prevent them. In the case of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, OccMed professionals face complex questions about how to advise organizations on how and when to allow mask removal, as well as challenges for building policies in their own companies and facilities.
Below, we’ll look at the difficulties posed to OccMed by this dual responsibility of mitigating COVID risk while simultaneously helping clients return to some sense of pre-pandemic normal.
Why Are Mask Mandates More Complex In Healthcare?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) frequently update advice for workplaces based on the best available information. But while many workplaces have lifted their mask mandates, implementing “un-masking” or “de-masking” protocols is far more complex.
On the one hand, OccMed clinics benefit from the following:
- A decreased risk of work-related infection thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine.1
- High vaccination rates among employees because of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.
But companies also face the following issues:
- Waning immunity and the spread of new variants have led to more breakthrough infections among even the vaccinated, posing a risk to patients and coworkers.
- Any unmasking guidelines may need to be accompanied by better screening and testing, which requires appropriate staff and technology.
- Healthcare companies are more likely to be exposed to the unvaccinated and may need more testing or treatment from OccMed clinics.2
What Role Does OccMed Play in Mask Mandates?
OccMed data can play an essential role in potential mask removal guidelines because it helps inform employer institutions about employee exposure, illness, and outcomes. Of particular importance is the number of unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated employees.
For those wondering when the pandemic will end, it requires stopping the spread of the virus among both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Therefore, it’s challenging to justify loosening mask requirements since they are essential for any eradication strategy.3 As a result, unmasking will likely mean loosening rules in only some areas, for some employees, and in some facilities where transmission risks are low, and vaccination rates are high.
How Can OccMed Tracking and Reporting Help Loosen COVID Restrictions?
For facilities that plan to implement new mask guidelines, one crucial piece of the puzzle will be complying with OSHA’s emergency temporary standard (ETS) designed to protect healthcare workers from exposure to COVID-19. While the ETS originally mandated a list of precautions that included masks, in December 2021, it was scaled back, and only the reporting requirements remained mandatory.4 As of April 2022, OSHA is seeking comment on relaxing current recommendations for the masking of vaccinated healthcare workers, but no decision has been made.5
OccMed specializes in not only treating healthcare and non-healthcare clients but also in advising their employers on preventative plans, assessing workplace policies, and identifying potential hazards. If a facility has the ability to scale back mask usage, OccMed can help address the following strategic questions:
- How might the facility’s vaccination rate influence its mask policies?
- Will OccMed COVID exposure data be used to assess and change mask guidelines? If so, what should the reporting requirements look like?
- Can an unmasking plan be implemented gradually based on the best exposure and illness data from OccMed clinics?
New variants will play the biggest role in determining when life will return to normal after COVID. But OccMed exposure, illness data, and the ability to analyze it strategically will be critical when facilities decide to scale back some mitigation measures, such as face masks.
Are you ready to learn more about how your facility can use tools to effectively track COVID exposures, illnesses, and compliance to help plan new masking guidelines with employers? Schedule a demo to get more information about Net Health® Occupational Medicine solutions today.
Note: Net Health makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any of the information presented herein. All information is provided on an as-is basis. It is the viewer’s responsibility to verify any and all information presented herein.
3 Tools to Help Employee Health and OccMeds Departments Manage COVID-19
1 UpToDate, “COVID-19: Occupational Health Issues for Health Care Personnel,” January 28, 2022.
2 Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “SARS-CoV-2 Infection and Hospitalization Among Adults Aged ≥18 Years, by Vaccination Status, Before and During SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.529 (Omicron) Variant Predominance — Los Angeles County, California, November 7, 2021–January 8, 2022,” February 4, 2022.
3 Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Coronavirus Face Masks FAQs,” January 27, 2022; Yale Medicine, “Why Doctors Wear Masks,” September 1, 2020.
4Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “Statement on the Status of the OSHA COVID-19 Healthcare ETS,” December 27, 2021.
5 Federal Register, “Occupational Exposure to COVID-19 in Healthcare Settings,” March 23, 2022.