DENVER – Two health care systems in Colorado announced Friday they are lifting universal mask mandates for patients, visitors and staff at the beginning of March, despite federal recommendations that masks be worn in health care settings where staff may encounter vulnerable patients when community transmission of the novel coronavirus is high.
Both Denver Health and UCHealth said in separate communications Friday they were lifting universal mask mandates for patients, visitors and staff beginning March 1, citing substantial decreases in incidences of both COVID-19 and influenza.
At Denver Health, asymptomatic patients, visitors and vaccinated staff at all Denver Health facilities “may choose to mask but are no longer required to do so,” officials said in a news release Friday.
Patients, visitors and staff with respiratory symptoms (such as a cough or runny nose), and any staff members who are unvaccinated against COVID-19, will still be required to wear masks in Denver Health facilities for infection prevention measures, officials said.
Denver Health officials said their updated masking policy could change “should any community respiratory virus infection rate rise to a level requiring universal masking to ensure patient, visitor and employee health.”
UCHealth, on the other hand, said it was lifting their universal mask mandates to align with a few other hospitals in Colorado who were doing the same.
“We feel the time is right to make this change because UCHealth hospitals, along with the state of Colorado, have seen substantial decreases in COVID-19 cases, and influenza cases have also fallen,” said UCHealth spokeswoman Alli Witzman in a statement about the change.
Though universal mask mandates are being lifted, “any patients who have an infectious disease may be required to wear a mask, and any staff members or providers who care for those patients will be required to wear appropriate personal protective equipment – which may include masks, eye protection, gloves, gown, etc.,” Witzman added.
Spokespeople for both health care systems also said anyone who wishes to continue wearing masks can do so “out of personal preference and individual risk factors.”
Anyone experiencing cold, flu or other respiratory symptoms or who is not fully vaccinated was encouraged to continue wearing masks, preferably high-quality masks such as KN95 and N95 respirators, officials added.
CDC recommends masks in health care settings when transmission is high
While not a mandate, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend the use of masks “for everyone in a healthcare setting when they are in areas of the healthcare facility where they could encounter patients” when SARS-CoV-2 community transmission levels are high.
Areas with high community transmission of COVID-19 in Colorado as of Friday evening included Adams, Alamosa, Arapahoe, Chaffee, Conejos, Costilla, Crowley, Denver, Douglas, Eagle, Elbert, Grand, Gunnison, Huerfano, La Plata, Lake, Larimer, Mineral, Montezuma, Morgan, Park, Phillips, Prowers, Rio Blanco, Rio Grande, Routt, San Miguel, Teller, Washington, Weld and Yuma counties.
The number of weekly hospital admissions due to COVID-19 has increased 18% since late January, according to statewide data, though they have gone down about 61% following a surge seen during the Thanksgiving holiday.
In all, 186 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Colorado as of Wednesday, numbers not seen since late October.