WISCONSIN — Three years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, several major Wisconisn hospitals and health systems in the state are now making masking optional, providers announced Monday.
Hospital Sisters Health System's (HSHS) Wisconsin hospitals, Aurora Health Care, Children’s Wisconsin, ProHealth Care and ThedaCare have all eased their requirements.
Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin network changed its policy on April 10 to make masking optional.
The decision to loosen masking comes following the end of the COVID-19 national emergency. President Joe Biden ended it last week.
Wisconsin recently ended its Community Testing Support Program for COVID-19 through the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, saying with the end of the federal health emergency, many sites would discontinue testing in-person.
Here’s a look at some of the upgraded mask policies for Wisconsin health providers.
Beginning on April 24, mandatory masking will end at ThedaCare. Officials said the decision to end masking was made after a risk assessment was made by the health system's Infection Prevention Teams.
It will still be required for those who may have respiratory illness or COVID-19/flu symptoms, those who've been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 10 days, those who live or work in an area with a COVID-19 outbreaks and for team members who care for patients with respiratory symptoms, illlness or COVID-19. It will also be required for those at long-term care facilities or skilled-nursing facilities with an outbreak.
“We are encouraged by the low transmission levels in our communities that provide us with the opportunity to end universal, required masking at our facilities,” said Dr. Mark Cockley, ThedaCare chief clinical officer and president of ThedaCare Health Network. “While we understand COVID-19 will continue be a virus we must monitor, we are pleased to be able to return to pre-pandemic guidelines.”
ThedaCare said they'll continue to monitor and adapt their guidelines as necessary.
At Children’s, masks are now optional at primary care clinics, specialty care clinics and urgent care locations.
Aurora Health Care
At Aurora, there are a few exceptions to the optional masking rule put in place Monday.
According to Aurora, masks will be required during patient visits or care in “transmission-based isolation.” Masks “may” be required in oncology and transplant settings.
Providers at Aurora will also be required to wear a mask if their patient requests it. The organization said it will encourage people to continue wearing masks in group settings.
At ProHealth Care hospitals, masks are now optional in hallways, cafeterias and business offices. Caregivers are still required to wear masks with patients. While visiting in a patient room, visitors are also still required to wear masks.
Inside ProHealth’s clinics, masks are optional unless the patient has a sign of a respiratory illness. Officials also recommended wearing a mask if you have a weakened immune system.
With a steady decrease in COVID-19, HSHS Wisconsin hospitals said visitors, patients and colleagues won’t be required to mask up. Similar to ProHealth, you’ll still be required to mask if you have a respiratory illness or COVID-19/flu symptoms; if you’ve been exposed to, or live or work in an area experiencing COVID-19; and if you visit or care for patients in isolation.
Despite the loosening of requirements, most providers said they will be monitoring data and may reinstate masking requirements if there is a surge in any respiratory illnesses.
As of April 13, most of the state's counties were at a "low" COVID-19 community level risk, with a small handful of counties seeing a moderate level, according to DHS. The latest DHS data also showed a seven-day average of 324 new cases of COVID-19 per day in the state.