Most health systems and physician groups are not adjusting their mask mandates after a federal judge struck down the law for airlines and public transportation.
Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle lifted the federal mask mandate in a ruling issued Monday in a Florida federal court. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had extended the requirement to May 3.
The CDC did not have the authority to enforce the mask mandate, Mizelle ruled, leaving the decision up to airline and transportation companies. Delta, United, Southwest, American and several other airlines, as well as Amtrak, lifted their guidelines Monday. The public transit authorities in New York and Los Angeles have left their masking rules intact, unlike those for Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Austin, Texas, which changed their stance after the ruling.
Most health systems and physician groups will maintain their masking requirements, regardless of changes in other industries. Some providers are easing the rules in certain markets as COVID-19 infection rates decline, but those decisions were made independent of Mizelle's ruling.
Here's how health systems, physician groups and medical associations responded to the ruling:
- Trinity Health's chief clinical officer, Dr. Daniel Roth, said it jeopardizes the immunocompromised and those who can't be vaccinated. "Trinity Health has followed guidelines from the CDC to ensure the safety of our colleagues, clinicians and patients. Yesterday's court decision removing the requirement for face coverings on public transportation was irresponsibly abrupt and increases risk," he said in an emailed statement.
- Northwell Health will not change its masking rules in clinical settings, said Dr. David Battinelli, physician-in-chief of the New York City health system. "As a clinical facility, we're not public transportation. We're not the airlines. To me, there's almost no connection. Had this been somebody who successfully overturned a mask mandate in some type of clinical facility, obviously it would get everybody's attention," he said. Even if COVID-19 rates fall, masks will likely still be worn by employees in patients' rooms, Battinelli said. "We and other places have had discussions that we're not sure the masking in clinical settings will go away or should go away."
- Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota will continue to require masks in all patient facilities on its campuses, a spokesperson said.
- The American Hospital Association said the decision will not have any direct implications for hospitals. "CDC has separate guidance for the healthcare workforce because it treats people who are more likely than the general population to be vulnerable to COVID-19. We are unaware of any challenges to CDC's authority to issue such guidance," a spokesperson said.
- Sharp HealthCare will continue to follow California's mask rule. The integrated San Diego-based system hasn't heard of any widespread pushback from its employees regarding masks during its weekly COVID-19 leadership meetings, a spokesperson said.
- Cleveland Clinic has maintained its safety precautions throughout the pandemic, even after Ohio sunset its indoor mask requirement, and will continue to do so, a spokesperson said.
- Tryon Medical Partners, a regional physician group based in Charlotte, North Carolina, will continue to ask patients across its 10 clinics to wear masks "as the virus is still prevalent in the population," a spokesperson said.
- A spokesperson for National Nurses United, the country's largest organization of registered nurses, said masking requirements should have remained intact. "The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. This is not the time to be lifting mask mandates on airplanes, in hospitals, on public transportation or indoors," the spokesperson said.
- Houston Methodist dropped its mask requirements in public spaces for patients, visitors and staff on April 4. The decision was based on declining COVID-19 hospitalization rates and positivity rates, said Dr. Wesley Long, Houston Methodist Medical Director of Diagnostic Microbiology. "Certainly, the pandemic has been difficult on everyone, particularly healthcare workers," he said in an email. "Hopefully, this change will help restore some sense of normalcy."
- Providence, based in Renton, Washington, still has universal masking requirements in clinical settings, a spokesperson said.
- Sanford Health, the Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based health system, continues to adhere to CDC masking guidelines for workers, visitors and patients. "While the pandemic is not over, we are encouraged by the tools and resources that are now available to better manage and prevent serious outcomes from COVID-19 including vaccinations, boosters and antiviral treatment options. We remain committed to keeping our people, patients and communities healthy and safe," Dr. Jeremy Cauwels, chief physician at Sanford, said in an emailed statement.
- Three UnityPoint Health hospitals in eastern Iowa—UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids, UnityPoint Health-Allen Hospital in Waterloo and UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital in Dubuque—relaxed masking requirements for most patients, visitors and fully vaccinated employees, said Kevin Kirkpatrick, a UnityPoint Health spokesperson. While the changes were implemented Tuesday, the health system's clinical governance council approved the move last week, citing declining transmission rates. Masking is still required for healthcare workers entering patient rooms or performing direct patient care, however. And should local transmission levels rise, the mask mandate will return for patients, visitors and employees, Kirkpatrick said.