A worker in a mask at Northern Light Health Care. Credit: Photo courtesy of Northern Light Health

Northern Light Health staff, patients and visitors will no longer have to wear face masks at most medical facilities around the state starting Thursday, according to an announcement from the hospital system.

Face masks will still be required at some facilities, such as Northern Light Cancer Care in Brewer and infusion centers. Those with known exposure to COVID-19 and experiencing signs of respiratory illness or who have been diagnosed with such an illness will still need to wear masks.

Northern Light Health’s decision to end its universal masking policy is a major step in Maine since the COVID-19 pandemic began three years ago. Face masks haven’t been a requirement of staff and patrons at most businesses, restaurants and other facilities for a few months, but they have remained mandatory at medical sites as a way to keep workers and patients safe.

“We have been working closely with clinical leaders for several months to determine the right time and right way to move away from universal masking,” said Glenda Dwyer, senior vice president of clinical operations and chief access officer, in a prepared statement.

The downward trend in community infection and hospitalization rates for respiratory illness, along with careful planning, were indicators that the hospital system was ready to make the move, she said.

“Masking continues to be a vital part of our infection prevention toolbox,” Dwyer said, noting they protect people from many illnesses, and that doesn’t end with the COVID-19 becoming endemic or a policy change. “There will always be times when masking is the right choice for an individual or a group.”

People’s vulnerabilities are not always clear, she said, and it’s important to keep in mind who they may be caring for at home.

Northern Light will continue to offer masks to patients and visitors. Patients can also request that care team members wear masks during their appointments.