This past year has been a journey, hasn’t it? We’ve come a long way since last spring—especially in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as vaccinations trend upward and cases trend down, healthcare providers are finding themselves in a bit of a pickle. Maintaining the rigorous infection control protocol initiated by the CDC at the beginning of the pandemic can be time-consuming—not to mention costly. And yet, the pandemic is not totally over—and healthcare providers (especially those who work in close quarters with their patients) can’t eschew caution altogether. So, let’s review the latest CDC guidance on the books (as of this article’s publish date).
Now that my therapists are vaccinated, can they stop wearing their masks?
Not yet. Though the CDC announced on May 13, 2021, that most vaccinated people can ditch their masks, it still recommends that vaccinated people wear masks in healthcare settings.
Some of my therapists were diagnosed with COVID-19 and have since recovered. Do they still have to wear masks?
Yes. The CDC still recommends that everyone wear masks when spending time indoors in public with others.
Do I have to wear two masks?
Probably not. While it’s true the CDC recommends wearing two masks, it’s largely in an effort to help people improve the fit of their masks. In other words, if your single mask fits snugly around your face (e.g., there’s no gapping, it uses a metal nose wire, and it has multiple layers), you probably don’t need to wear a second mask. In fact, some masks should not be worn together—like two disposable masks or a KN95 with any other kind of mask.
General Infection Control
I heard that the CDC said COVID-19 doesn’t spread well on surfaces. Do I still need to disinfect equipment every time a patient uses it?
Probably not. At this time, the CDC recommends disinfecting high-touch surfaces at least once a day as it “may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes”—even though this is “not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
Encouraging good hand hygiene (e.g., asking patients to use hand sanitizer before and after using communal equipment) should reduce infection risk.
If my therapists are exposed to COVID-19 and exhibit no symptoms, do they still have to quarantine?
It depends. Per the CDC, fully vaccinated people who exhibit no symptoms after an exposure to COVID-19 do not have to quarantine. For non-vaccinated people, however, the CDC still endorses a 14-day quarantine, though it acknowledges that some local health departments endorse a truncated 10-day quarantine. Ultimately, the CDC recommends checking with your local public health department for guidelines.
Do I still have to enforce social distancing in my clinic?
Not necessarily—but the CDC still considers social distancing to be a best practice. Though many states are allowing businesses to operate at full capacity, the CDC recommends that workplaces continue adhering to the social distancing guidelines outlined in the above-linked webpage.
Am I still required to screen patients before they receive treatment?
Technically, patient screening was never required by the CDC—they were simply recommended. The CDC has shared that screening and health checks “will not be completely effective because asymptomatic individuals or individuals with mild non-specific symptoms may not realize they are infected and may pass through screening.” So, feel free to treat this as an optional precaution.
Can I require my therapists to get vaccinated?
It’s complicated. Depending on state or other applicable laws, employers may have the right to require employees to be vaccinated in order to maintain employment in a privately owned business. However, the employees who work for that business also have the right to refuse vaccination and resign from their position.
Wait, doesn’t that violate HIPAA?
No. HIPAA is specifically designed to prevent healthcare organizations from selling or sharing patient information without their approval. Per Becker’s Hospital Review, HIPAA “doesn’t protect medical information that a patient shares about themselves”—and in these scenarios, people are opting to share their vaccine status in order to access certain places (like a place of employment).
When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re not totally out of the woods—but we’re getting pretty dang close! By following CDC guidelines and continuing to take safety precautions, we can hurry along that path and hopefully bring this journey to its long-overdue end.