U.S. health officials seek Covid-19 hospital safety complaints following POLITICO report

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Mia Ives-Rublee, a disability advocate who spoke with federal officials on Friday, also confirmed the administration’s thinking.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plans to notify hospitals that patients should be allowed to wear their N95s when entering, said Ives-Rublee, who works at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. CMS also wants to ensure patients know where to lodge complaints if a facility requests someone remove their mask or doesn’t follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. Next week, CMS plans to discuss the matter with state survey agencies, which consider complaints about health care facilities, two of the people familiar said.

The agency moves follow POLITICO’s report on Wednesday, which found that hospitals around the country ask patients to replace their N95s with less protective surgical masks. The hospitals that require patients to swap their N95s said they are enforcing quality control and following CDC guidelines, though the CDC doesn’t say patients must do so.

The CDC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. CMS declined to comment.

Ives-Rublee, who has pushed the CDC to require high-quality masks, particularly in health care settings, told POLITICO she participated in a meeting on Friday during which an agency official said they don’t recommend broad use of N95s because people wear them incorrectly.

Health care workers often undergo fit-testing to ensure a N95 seals properly, but research shows that a N95 doesn’t need to be fit-tested to provide superior protection to a surgical mask. While once in short supply, N95s are now widely available. The federal government earlier this year started providing free N95s for the public through pharmacies.

Hospital staff and visitors often wear surgical masks — in accordance with CDC guidelines – but public health experts fear that such masks put people at higher risk of catching Covid. A recent POLITICO analysis found a record number of hospitalized patients were infected with Covid during the Omicron wave. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert who advises the Biden administration, earlier told POLITICO that he had “no doubt” sub-par masks contributed to the transmission.

Though public health experts have urged the Biden administration for over a year to recommend N95s for all, the CDC has not done so. The agency and the White House have argued that even in hospitals, surgical masks provide sufficient protection in many situations, despite the CDC’s research showing that N95s provide much better protection. The agency also says the public can wear cloth masks, which it found are the least effective in stopping Covid transmission.

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