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March 20, 2023 - Albany Area Primary Health Care (AAPHC) announced this morning that effective Monday, March 20, face masks will now be optional in their medical offices. “After assessing the data, and with what we’re learning from the federal government, we feel confident in this decision,” says Lisa Rathel, Director of Nursing for AAPHC.

This announcement comes as the organization marks the third year anniversary of when COVID first impacted our community. “Masking up has been challenging for the past three years, but our organization can be proud knowing we did everything possible to minimize the risk of infection within our offices,” says Lisa. “Wearing the masks was always about protecting one another and our patients, especially those most vulnerable to the virus.”

“Over the last two years, the largest adult vaccination program in U.S. history was implemented with nearly 270 million Americans receiving at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine,” says Dr. Edward Vance, Chief Medical Officer for AAPHC. “As a result of mass vaccination and the many other efforts to stop the COVID spread, America has seen substantial improvement in COVID health metrics since the peak of the Omicron surge at the end of January 2022 including daily COVID reported cases are down 92% and COVID deaths have declined by over 80%.”

“After considering all of these points, plus that the Department of Health and Human Services has announced they will end the Emergency Phase of the COVID Pandemic on May 11, we feel we are in a fairly positive position for handling COVID illness and can move forward with masking as option – rather than mandatory – for our patients,” says Dr. Vance.

AAPHC would also like to stress that anyone who would like to continue to wear a mask is able to do so. “We understand that some of our providers, staff and patients just feel more comfortable wearing a mask in a medical office. If someone would like to wear one – especially to protect from germs – we completely understand and welcome it,” says Lisa.

Patients of AAPHC can look for more information to be released from the group in the coming days. Providers and Employees of AAPHC were already notified of the change earlier this week. “I think everyone is ready to see their co-workers and our patients' smiling faces again,” says Lisa.