Finally! Health care provider makes Covid masks voluntary

You still see a few folks wearing medical masks here and there, but they stand out like sore thumbs. Most people ditched the pandemic relics long ago. But there’s a major exception. Health care providers and hospitals continue to mandate masks for patients, staff and visitors months after the CDC dropped the requirement last September, except in areas with high transmission rates.

A spot check of several Minnesota health care systems confirms that mask mandates remain firmly in place in hospitals and medical providers across the state, regardless of the CDC announcement. M Health Fairview’s policy speaks for all of them.

Medical masks are required for all patients and visitors to our facilities, with exceptions for children under age 2, those with health conditions who cannot wear masks, and those needing emergency care. Please arrive wearing a mask that covers your mouth and nose. You will be given a disposable medical mask to wear when you arrive if you don’t have one, and you must keep it on during your entire visit.

But the end may be near, even in health care settings. Essentia Health, a regional health care provider headquartered in Duluth, says the use of protective masks will be voluntary in its facilities, as of this week.

After careful consideration of the state of COVID-19, Essentia Health will move to a voluntary masking policy for most staff, patients and visitors. This change goes into effect Monday, April 3, and applies to our hospitals, clinics and home health care.

Voluntary masking does not apply to Essentia’s long-term care/nursing home facilities or assisted living facilities, which will continue to evaluate masking protocols separately. Hospice staff will follow the policies of the facilities they enter.

As the disease has evolved, we are seeing fewer deaths and hospitalizations related to the virus. Additionally, the current availability of COVID-19 vaccines and effective treatments has improved.

The relaxed rules apply to Essentia facilities in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. An Essentia doctor tacitly acknowledged in a WDIO-TV interview that health care providers could have lifted the requirement months ago.

“It’s a gradual rolling back of COVID measures, like the preoperative testing. And that was a big thing. And seeing how things go and remember this is actually all in accordance with the CDC option that was published months ago,” says Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, an Infectious Disease Physician at Essentia Health…

“One of the reasons we changed the policy now is the incidence amount of COVID in the community has decreased substantially,” continues Dr. Prabhu.

In fact, other health care providers around the country began dropping their mask mandates several weeks ago. Becker’s Hospital Review lists at least eight states that saw the writing on the wall with the federal government’s official emergency finally fizzling out in May.

Ahead of the ending COVID-19 emergency, several hospitals and health systems have begun to walk back their mask rules. 

Several health systems across North Carolina are the latest to announce reversal of masking policies, joining dozens of other hospitals and systems nationwide. 

Naturally, Essentia will continue to provide protective masks to those who feel the need. It will be interesting to see which providers and hospitals will be next to recognize that we’ve learned to live with Covid.