As of April 6, 14 states have lifted all mask mandates and others require masks only in certain situations. This can leave allergy practices trying to enforce clinic mask requirements in a sticky situation. Some medical practices enforcing mask mandates have reported pushback from patients. Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements can help inform the best course of action for allergy practices.
The CDC’s mask recommendations for all health care settings are clear: health care providers are directed to “take steps to ensure that everyone adheres to source control measures and hand hygiene practices while in a healthcare facility.” The CDC defines source control as the “use of well-fitting cloth masks, facemasks, or respirators to cover a person’s mouth and nose to prevent spread of respiratory secretions when they are breathing, talking, sneezing, or coughing.”
Additionally, allergy practices should be advised there is an (OSHA) requirement to mitigate the spread of COVID in the workplace. Further, on Jan. 21, 2021 President Biden signed an Executive Order tasking OSHA to perform safety inspections on all businesses designated as serious risks of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic through Dec. 31, 2020, OSHA has issued penalties totaling $3.9 million directly related to the failure to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Although local governments are relaxing standards for the general public, health care providers and employers are subject to federal laws and mandates. Twenty-two states also have state OSHA guidelines.
Melinda Rathkopf, MD, FACAAI, vice chair of the Practice Management Committee, said, “The vast majority of our patients are wearing masks, no questions asked. We have had a few patients at a satellite clinic that weren’t happy about wearing a mask. I only have one patient that refused and walked out in the last year. If I walked into a room and a patient was not wearing their mask, I would ask if they could please put their mask on and thanked them for wearing their mask for our safety.”
Practices in states without mask mandates may want to consider posting signage stating the practice requires masks for all visits per CDC guidelines and OSHA requirements.