By Ruth Werner
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued some new guidance about mask usage among vaccinated people. In short, they said take ’em off—inside and outside, 6 feet apart and closer.
This is a big step! And it has been made possible by all the people involved in developing, administering, distributing, and then accepting these remarkable vaccines. We owe every single one of those people our gratitude.
But you may be wondering, what does this mean about masks in my session room?
First and foremost, make sure you are practicing legally according to your state and local scope of practice. Some states have responded more quickly than others to the new CDC guidance by changing their requirements, and if your state is still requiring that you and your clients wear a mask, there is your answer.
Beyond that, I have a few thoughts.
1. These vaccines are awesome! They work great! AND breakthrough infections happen. Mostly they are asymptomatic. Which means a vaccinated person—maybe you—could have COVID. If you do, you almost certainly won’t get very sick, but a person with a silent infection can still contaminate the air in your session room.
2. We spend a lot of time up close and personal with our clients. And we know that time and proximity are two of the biggest factors in viral transmission. So, even if both people are vaccinated, there is still a small-but-not-zero chance that someone is a carrier, and transmission could happen.
3. The infection rates in most of the country are stable or going down. But not everywhere. If you live and practice in an area that is still struggling to get new infections under control, that might figure into your choices about using masks in your practice.
4. The CDC continues to recommend mask use in health-care facilities. I’m sure that is meant to refer to places where lots of potentially sick people congregate, but massage therapy businesses, in some settings, qualify as health-care facilities, and we should pay attention to that.
5. The CDC says vaccinated people can drop masks—indoors and outdoors. I counter with this: How do we know who is vaccinated? Is it legit to ask to see our clients’ vaccine cards? Or to show them ours? This change in policy was announced without any guidance on how to handle this sticky legal and ethical question. And while it is fair to say we have an obligation to inform our clients about our own status (this is an issue of informed consent), it is a trickier problem to discern whether we can or should require that our clients inform us of their vaccine status. This could be led by state laws and local jurisdictions, but I don’t have faith that massage therapists will get clear guidance on this anytime soon.
6. I rejoice that the US appears to be on the recovery side of the pandemic. At the same time, I recognize two things: We’re not finished with it, and our world is so very small. Variants that are wreaking havoc elsewhere on the planet may find their way here, and we don’t know what kind of impact they will have. The chances are decent that mask policies may change, depending on how that goes.
I have no intention of telling massage therapists what to do on the mask question. When I ponder the questions I’ve listed above, I’m inclined to recommend continuing to use masks in massage therapy practice, depending on these factors:
- Whether you are fully vaccinated yourself
- Whether you feel confident your clients are volunteering true information about their status
- Your local infection rates
- Whether you work in a health-care facility
- Your willingness to go back to using masks if circumstances change
I encourage every massage therapist to weigh these variables carefully, so whatever decision you make is based on the best information you can gather. And I will continue to strive to be a reliable source for that information.
Ruth Werner is a former massage therapist, a writer, and an NCBTMB-approved provider of continuing education. She wrote A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology (available at BooksofDiscovery.com) now in its seventh edition, which is used in massage schools worldwide.
“COVID-19 Variant Updates for the US” by Ruth Werner
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“Questions for Clients Who Have Had COVID-19” by Ruth Werner