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Nearly three years to the day of pandemic shutdowns in Springfield, CoxHealth and Mercy Springfield Communities, the area's two largest employers, have scaled back face mask requirements as COVID-19 case levels drop.
At both health care systems, masking has become optional in most cases for workers and patients.
CoxHealth is continuing to require the use of face masks by health care workers, patients and visitors in settings where patients are at the greatest risk, according to a news release.
"As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to make patient and staff safety our top priority," officials said in the release. "While we will continue to closely monitor community trends, our change in approach is an important step forward in easing pandemic restrictions, while still protecting vulnerable patients we serve."
Face masks will continue to be available at the entrances of CoxHealth facilities for people who choose to wear them, officials say. Additionally, some masking requirements remain in play, including their use by staff who are providing direct inpatient care.
At Mercy, the change went into effect today, according to a statement provided by spokesperson Sonya Kullmann.
"This change is based on new data available and reviews of declining cases across our communities," the statement reads. "Mercy will continue to review all pertinent data and may need to reenact masking requirements in the future, when and where it becomes necessary."
Exceptions will be in place for those symptomatic with COVID-19 or exposed to the virus within the last 10 days and for clinical spaces experiencing virus outbreaks, patients in isolation and co-workers who are exempt from influenza or COVID-19 vaccinations until at least March 31.
The Springfield health care systems early in the pandemic instituted masking protocols and were outspoken at government meetings in keeping mask mandates in place for the general population, according to past reporting.
Citizens Memorial Hospital spokesperson Charlotte Marsch said an existing masking policy in place since October remains in effect. The policy is for masks to be optional for patients, visitors and employees, with certain exceptions, such as those with COVID-19 exposures.
A request for information on Jordan Valley Community Heath Center’s masking policy was not answered by deadline.
The Springfield-Greene County Health Department's COVID-19 dashboard shows a case rate of roughly 51.5 per 100,000 population, hospital admissions of 8.2 per 100,000 population and 2.2% of staffed inpatient beds in use by patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19.
SBJ interviews the interim dean at the William H. Darr College of Agriculture at Missouri State University.