Advocate Health is the first major hospital system in Chicago to make face masks optional since the COVID pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) — During the COVID pandemic, hospitals have been under tight control. Attendance was limited and there were strict protocols for masks.

But now something is changing in the Advocate network hospitals.

Masks can be removed from next week.

Advocate has 10 hospitals and more than 250 healthcare facilities in Illinois, and next Monday it will be optional to wear a mask in those locations.

It is the first major Chicago hospital system to do so, as COVID transmission rates are at reasonable levels for this change.

After about three years of obfuscation, Advocate Health is now giving employees and patients a choice.

“I’m glad it’s optional because I will definitely wear mine,” said Mildred Ford, an Advocate Christ patient.

The health system is also returning to its old visiting policy, allowing patients to have their loved ones next to them again.

“We know and recognize how important it is for patients to have visitors, and it certainly contributes to in-hospital recovery,” said Dr. Robert Citronberg, Senior Medical Director, Infectious Diseases and Prevention at Advocate Health Care.

The move to make masking optional comes with the recent drop in COVID transmission rates.

The CDC reports 12 counties in the state with medium levels of transmission, but no counties are in the high category.

“As community transmission rates have dropped, we can actually switch to the mask option. So does that mean no one will be wearing a mask in the hospital? Certainly not,” said Dr. Citronberg.

Patients can still ask their caregivers to wear a mask if it makes them more comfortable, Advocate Health said, and some patients with certain symptoms and conditions will continue to mask.

“This is especially true for patients who may be immunocompromised. They could have transplants, they could be oncology or cancer patients,” said Dr. Citronberg.

Some people leaving Christ Hospital have reservations about the policy change.

“I think I’m used to it. It makes me feel more confident,” said Ford. “I took it off during my exam and put it right back on.”

Meanwhile, other Chicago hospitals said they are not yet making changes to the masking policy. These include Northwestern and the University of Chicago Medicine. Rush has relaxed visitor guidelines but is maintaining its mask mandate for now.

Advocate Health officials said they will continue to monitor transmission levels throughout each season and make changes as needed.

The new policy begins on Monday.

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