Health systems ease up on masking 

Health systems are scaling back mask rules for staff, patients and visitors as respiratory virus season wanes.

Many systems reimplemented mask rules this winter amid an uptick in virus activity and growing concerns over potential capacity issues. Hospital masking took many different forms, with some organizations implementing blanket mandates for all patients, staff and visitors, and others taking a more flexible approach, limiting masking to certain patient care locations or stakeholders. 

Now, health systems are once again loosening masking guidelines. MaineHealth ended masking requirements for staff members providing direct patient care March 18, citing "a substantial decline in overall infection rates" over the past month. 

In a coordinated effort, Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health; Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health and Greensboro, N.C.-based Cone Health collectively updated their visitor restrictions and announced that masking is optional March 21. Meanwhile, Tufts Medicine and Mass General Brigham, both based in Boston, notified staff members that masking is no longer mandatory on March 29, the Boston Business Journal reported. 

Systems are still requiring masks for certain areas, procedures or patients when a higher level of infection prevention is required.  

This virus season marked the first since the CDC loosened national guidelines, allowing healthcare organizations to independently decide when and how to implement masking policies, if at all. Whether health systems embrace masking as a recurring precaution during future virus seasons remains to be seen. 

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