NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Hampton Roads’ major health systems will no longer require masking at their facilities starting on March 21, citing a “steady decrease in COVID-19, RSV, and flu patients” locally and nationwide.

The health care providers, Bon Secours, Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters Health System, Riverside Health System and Sentara Healthcare, made the announcement Monday in a joint press release.

“Health systems in Hampton Roads have closely monitored COVID-19 activity for the past three years across our communities, using scientific data and the highest safety standards to guide our decisions throughout the pandemic,” the health systems said. “Currently, health systems across the country are seeing a steady decrease in COVID-19, RSV, and flu patients – the three respiratory viruses that triggered a surge in emergency department visits and hospitalizations last fall.”

The move is in line with CDC recommendations, which suggest optional masking when COVID levels are “low” in the community.

Masks however will still be strongly encouraged for all patients and visitors. Exceptions to the masking rule will include:

  • Patients who are seeking treatment for a respiratory illness such as COVID-19 or the flu should continue to wear a mask to prevent spreading the virus to others.
  • Healthcare workers must continue to follow standard and transmission-based precautions during all patient encounters.

“While we continue to evolve our COVID-19 policies, our priority remains the safety of our team members, patients, and community. Masks will continue to be an important tool, along with vaccinations, to keep people healthy and safe. Masks will still be available to patients and visitors who enter our facilities. Additionally, our healthcare colleagues can still wear a mask if they choose to do so.”

As of March 20, area hospitals are reporting just over 50 hospitalized patients that have been confirmed positive for COVID-19.