Several Minnesota health systems are easing their masking requirements in a further departure from policies established at the height of the pandemic three years ago.
The latest to announce is Mayo Clinic, which announced in a statement earlier this week that its system will no longer require masks in “most patient care areas on Mayo Clinic and Mayo Clinic Health System campuses. from April 10. Masking will be rather voluntary, except in high-risk patient settings. In the statement, Mayo officials said they plan to advise high-risk immunocompromised patients to wear a mask at their facilities.
Allina Health also plans to relax its masking rules at its facilities starting April 18.
“These are conversations that we’ve really continued to have throughout the pandemic,” said Mallory Koshiol, vice president of system safety and quality at Allina Health.
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In October 2022, the health system announced that staff could remove their masks in non-patient care areas, such as break rooms and offices. Koshiol said the announcement was part of their “step-by-step approach.”
“We have measures that we will continue to monitor constantly and that we should [or] if we have to restore [the masking mandate] we definitely will,” she said. “Safety is our priority, so we will continue to monitor and work to maintain that. And we know our staff are looking forward to seeing themselves smile and getting back to some level of normality after many, many years of wearing masks all the time. time. “
These metrics include occupational health among staff and community transmission rates. Koshiol said staff, patients and visitors can choose to mask up, and patients and visitors can request that employees mask up when providing care.
Hennepin Healthcare officials said they also plan to make changes to their masking policies. From April 11, masking by staff will continue in patient contact areas, such as exam rooms, therapy areas and receptions, but is no longer required in other places, such as elevators, cafeterias and conference rooms.
Masking will be optional for patients and visitors except in certain scenarios, the statement said.
While most people have stopped wearing masks in public, it has generally been required in health care settings since the pandemic began three years ago.
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released in September 2022, states “[h]Healthcare facilities may choose to offer tight-fitting masks as a source control option for visitors, but should allow the use of a mask or respirator with higher level protection that does not is not visibly soiled by people who have chosen this option based on their individual preference.
But some providers say health care is different and should be looked at differently.
“There are a lot of people in hospitals who aren’t really there by their own choice,” said Dr. Jill Foster, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and Masonic Children’s. Hospital. She said they had a lot of high-risk patients who might not be protected against COVID in the same way as many members of the general population.
“I think that complicates things, because we make it so that the vulnerable patients are the ones who have to defend themselves rather than the institutions that defend them in advance by setting guidelines,” she said. declared. “The advantage is that people can wear a mask themselves and feel quite protected. But of course, the two people wearing a mask, it’s certainly much better.”
Other state health systems have already changed their masking rules.
CentraCare, which has facilities across Minnesota, said its masking change also took effect April 2. The organization said factors related to COVID-19 — including employee infection rates and the number of patients they treated with the virus — factored into the decision.
“Although COVID-19 is not over, it has changed dramatically since it started. Health impacts are less severe and death rates are much lower,” said Dr George Morris, who has led CentraCare’s COVID response, in a statement “We still have protocols in place for masking employees – and our patients should continue to mask if they are experiencing respiratory symptoms. We will rely on closely monitored measures to guide future decisions [sic] related to masking if our environment changes.
Essentia Health, which has facilities in central Minnesota and the Duluth area, eased masking restrictions on April 3. continue to evaluate masking protocols separately. Hospice staff will follow the policies of the facilities they enter.
Fairview Health Services officials said they were discussing their masking policy, but had nothing to announce at this time.