Maine’s second largest health care network has dropped its universal masking policy in its hospitals and other health care centers statewide.

Northern Light Health announced the policy change Thursday. It comes as the number of hospital patients with COVID-19 has dropped to the lowest level since August 2021. The number in critical care fell this week to the lowest level since November 2020.

“In what may be the most visible indicator of how far we have come in the response and management of COVID-19, today, Northern Light Health is ending their universal masking policy statewide. While masking will still be required in certain areas, such as cancer care and infusion centers, masking will not be required for most people in most facilities,” the health network said in its announcement.

There were 75 hospitalized patients with the virus statewide as of Wednesday, and nine in critical care, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In early March, there were nearly 200 infected hospital patients and 36 in critical care.

“The downward trend in community infection and hospitalization rates for respiratory illness, coupled with careful planning to ensure the safety of our patients and staff, indicate we’re ready,” Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations Glenda Dwyer said in a written statement.

Northern Light Health will continue to provide masks for those who choose to wear them and patients can request that their care providers wear masks. Masks will still be required in cancer treatment and infusion centers and in other facilities for people who have symptoms of respiratory illness, a diagnosis of a respiratory illness such as COVID-19 or flu, or had a known exposure to COVID-19 within 10 days.


“Masking continues to be a vital part of our infection prevention toolbox,” Dwyer said. “There will always be times when masking is the right choice for an individual, or a group. You cannot always see people’s vulnerabilities; you don’t know who they may be caring for at home.”

Northern Light is the parent organization of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Mercy Hospital in Portland, rural hospitals in northern Maine and a large network of outpatient services.

MaineHealth, the state’s largest health care network, has not yet announced any change to its masking policy. A spokesperson for Maine Medical Center, the network’s Portland hospital, said the masking policy is “still in place at this time.”

The federal government has been winding down its emergency policies in recent weeks and the national public health emergency declaration is set to expire May 11.

At the same time, COVID-19 continues to circulate and, while generally not leading to hospitalization, can lead to severe or longer-term health problems in some people.

An additional vaccine booster is now available for people at higher risk of COVID complications. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the additional shot for people 65 and older and people who are immunocompromised.

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