Face masks are no longer required in hospitals, Arizona’s largest health care system says

Banner Health dropped its mask mandate.

Banner Health dropped its mask mandate.

Visitors to Banner Health hospitals and medical facilities, including to emergency departments, don’t have to wear face masks anymore.

The Phoenix-based company made the announcement on Valentine’s Day, days after the state of New York announced that face masks would no longer be required in health care settings

Officials with Banner Health, which is Arizona’s largest health care delivery system, said they dropped their face mask requirement, “in alignment with current public health guidelines for health care facilities.”

Face mask requirements were lifted at Phoenix-based Valleywise Health on Thursday. As of Feb. 21, face masks will no longer be required at Abrazo Health facilities, spokesperson Keith Jones wrote in an email, and officials with Scottsdale-based HonorHealth said they were planning to end their face mask requirement, but they did not specify a date.

Banner employees with an approved COVID-19 vaccine exemption must still wear face masks in Banner locations where patients may be present, Banner spokesperson Becky Armendariz wrote in an email. Also, patients with respiratory symptoms must still wear masks and follow transmission-based precautions, she wrote.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a September update, loosened its recommendations for wearing masks in health care settings. The federal agency said universal face masks were no longer recommended, except in areas of high COVID-19 transmission.

The day after Banner Health lifted its mask requirements, Phoenix-based Valleywise Health announced that effective Thursday, its face mask requirements would be ending, too.

“We will review transmission rates from the Maricopa Department of Health on a weekly basis and adjust our masking requirements as needed,” the Valleywise announcement said. “We also ask that you wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms or have had a recent positive COVID-19 test or known exposure.”

Officials with Scottsdale-based HonorHealth say they still require face masks, but “intend to transition our mandatory masking requirement to optional” as the respiratory virus season and community transmission rates begin to wind down.

“We encourage individuals to continue masking based on their personal preference and knowledge of their own health risks,” a statement from HonorHealth says.

As the fourth year of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, severe illness, deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have decreased significantly. A federal COVID-19 public health emergency is expected to end May 11.

Still, COVID-19 has not gone away.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 67 new COVID-19 deaths for the week ending Feb. 11, and while patients in Arizona continue to be hospitalized for COVID-19, new COVID-19 hospital admissions are down by 92% from where they were at in January 2022, CDC data shows.

Reported COVID-19 deaths in Arizona have eclipsed 33,000, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported this week. As of the week ending Feb. 11, the state had reported 33,003 known deaths and, using data since the onset of the pandemic, has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the US, per a CDC analysis of surveillance data.

Reach health care reporter Stephanie Innes at [email protected] or at 602-444-8369. Follow her on Twitter @stephanieinnes.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona hospitals are starting to drop face mask requirements