Massachusetts

As Global Health Emergency Ends, Mass. Hospitals Set to Lift Masking Requirements

Dr. Rochelle Walensky is resigning from the top job at the CDC, the WHO has announced that COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency, and beginning next week, several Massachusetts medical centers will no longer require masks for most patients

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The World Health Organization made headlines Friday, announcing that COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency.

The emergency had been in effect for over three years.

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"COVID is absolutely still a threat," said Dr. Robert Klugman of UMass Memorial Medical Center. "Every day, every way, unfortunately."

The official public health emergency will be lifted on Thursday in the United States.

That's one of the reasons why Dr. Rochelle Walensky has just announced she's resigning from the top job at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention next month.

Walensky was an infectious diseases specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital before heading up the CDC. She said Friday this is a good time to transition out of the job.

But COVID isn't over. Klugman says the virus will be around for years, and there's always concern about potent variants.

"If we get a whole new variant with a whole new set of antibodies, then we could be back to square one in more ways in terms of starting over with the risks, the protections and the vaccines and so on," he said.

COVID is still considered a pandemic, as thousands of people are still dying of the virus worldwide every week.

Still, many major health centers in Massachusetts, including Beth Israel Lahey, Mass General Brigham, and UMass Memorial, will no longer require masking in health care settings beginning next Friday for most patients.

Mass General Brigham sent an email to patients Friday alerting them of the upcoming loosened mask policy.

"I think this is really an abomination," said Dr. Lara Jirmanus, a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School.

She has been one of the leading voices arguing that masks should remain required in medical spaces.

"We're basically setting ourselves up for a situation where hospitals and clinics become high-transmission zones for COVID-19," she said.

Some patients will still have to wear masks, especially if they have COVID or flu-like symptoms.

Some facilities are also still keeping a mask mandate in place.

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