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'This is a pretty historic moment': Triangle hospitals relax mask requirements

Masking requirements are being eased at hospitals around the Triangle
UNC Health Care
Officials at the three major hospitals around the Triangle are easing masking requirements.

In a move that signals another step past the height of the pandemic, the Triangle's three major hospital systems are relaxing mask requirements.

UNC Health will ease mask requirements for patients, visitors, and workers beginning Monday. Duke Health relaxed mask rules this week and WakeMed Health and Hospitals no longer required masks about a month ago.

"I think this is a pretty historic moment," said UNC Health spokesman Alan Wolf. "The hospital made a lot of changes when the pandemic hit, including adding mask requirements for everyone. Now, we feel like this is the right place and the right time to roll back some of those restrictions."

Hospitals are seeing far fewer patients than at various points in the past three years. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has changed what metrics it posts specific to COVID-19. Now, it takes a broader look that includes data for other respiratory diseases, like influenza, as well.

For the past several weeks, there have been fewer than 200 patients with respiratory diseases in hospitals across the state. Compare that with more than 5,000 patients that were hospitalized at one time at the height of the pandemic.

“Over the last few months, Duke Health leaders have observed a sustained decrease in COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths both locally, and nationally. As a result, the decision has been made to further relax masking requirements to a near pre-COVID-19 state," according to a statement released by Duke Health.

Any patient at these hospitals may still wear a mask at any time, and hospital leaders say providers will honor a request to wear a mask if a patient requests one. Masks will still be required for patients with symptoms of respiratory diseases and anyone with a recent positive COVID-19 test. And any procedure room where masking was required prior to 2020 will continue to require masking.

"Masking continues to be required when working with patients on for Airborne Infection Isolation, Airborne Infection Isolation Full Barrier and droplet precautions," according to a statement released by WakeMed. "It is also a requirement for patients and visitors in our practices who have symptoms of a respiratory virus."

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC health reporter, a beat he took in 2020. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016.
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