A nurse adjusts an electrode on a COVID-19 patient on...

A nurse adjusts an electrode on a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator in Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside on May 19, 2020. Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

New York State will no longer require individuals entering health care facilities to wear masks, ending one of the few remaining COVID-19 pandemic-era requirements still in place across the region, officials said Friday.

The mask mandate will be lifted beginning Feb. 12 for hospitals, nursing homes, home health care and hospice agencies and diagnostic and treatment centers, state officials said Friday in a Dear Administrator letter.

The guidance, which comes as the region approaches the third anniversary of the pandemic, aligns the state with guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommended lifting the mandate for health care facilities last September.

“The pandemic is not over, yet we are moving to a transition,” said Dr. James McDonald, the acting state Health Department commissioner. “As we do, and with safe and effective vaccines, treatments, and more, we are able to lift the state’s masking requirement in health care settings as operators now develop and implement their own facility-specific plans, in accordance with federal CDC guidance and the level of transmission in their areas.”

The masking rule was put in place during the early days of the pandemic and applied to staff, patients and visitors to all public health care facilities.

While the new state guidance continues to stress the importance of masking to prevent infection, McDonald told health care facilities to craft their own masking plans for staff, patients and visitors based on transmission levels across the region. Those plans, he said, should include a strategy to re-implement the mask mandate if COVID-19 rates significantly increase across the state.

COVID positive test rates statewide are hovering around 5% but are a full point lower on Long Island, according to State Health Department data.

Joe Kemp, a spokesman for Northwell Health, Long Island’s largest hospital system, said its masking requirement remains unchanged.

“We’re constantly looking at our policies and our mandates," Kemp said. "And as of right now, even with this notice from the state, our policy will remain unchanged.”

Damian Becker, a spokesman for Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside said it was reviewing its policy.

Timothy Kelchner, a spokesman for Catholic Health Services of Long Island, said the system will continue to follow state Department of Health guidance regarding masking mandates based on local transmission rates. 

Stony Brook Medicine, which operates Stony Brook University Hospital, said in a statement that it would continue to follow CDC and Department of Health guidelines but did not give specifics on what it might do in response to the dropping of the mask mandate. 

Richard Mollot, executive director of Long Term Care Community Coalition, an advocacy group for nursing home residents, disagreed with ending the mandate.

“The rates of current vaccination are low among both [nursing home] residents and staff,” Mollot said.

The state’s decision to end the mask requirement comes a week after New York City Mayor Eric Adams ended the vaccination mandate for city employees. The approximately 1,780 employees terminated for failing to submit proof of vaccination can now apply to return to their prior positions, Adams said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul ended the mask mandate for mass transit, including the Long Island Rail Road, in September.

The end of the mask mandate does not affect facility requirements unrelated to COVID, including those in place for influenza. Private medical and dental practices were not subject to the state’s masking guidance.

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