CHICAGO (WLS) -- Throughout the COVID pandemic, hospitals have been under tight control. Visitors were limited and there were stringent protocols on masks.
But now, something is changing across hospitals in the Advocate network.
Starting next week, the masks can come off.
Advocate has 10 hospitals and more than 250 healthcare sites in Illinois, and come Monday it will be optional to wear a mask at those locations.
It's the first major hospital system in Chicago to do so, as they say COVID transmission levels are at an appropriate level for this change.
After roughly three years of masking up, Advocate Health is now giving employees and patients a choice.
"I'm glad it's optional because I'll definitely wear mine," said Mildred Ford, an Advocate Christ patient.
The health system is also returning to its old visitor policy, allowing patients to have loved ones next to them again.
"We realize and recognize how important it is for patients to have visitors and it certainly contributes to recovery in the hospital," said Dr. Robert Citronberg, executive medical director of infectious disease and prevention at Advocate Health Care.
The move to make masking optional comes with the recent drop in COVID transmission levels.
The CDC is reporting 12 counties in the state at medium transmission level, but no counties are in the high category.
"Because the levels of community transmission have come down, we are actually able to go mask option. Now, does that mean no one will be wearing a mask in the hospital? Certainly not," Dr. Citronberg said.
Advocate Health said patients can still request their caregivers to wear a mask if that makes them more comfortable and some patients with certain symptoms and conditions will still keep masking too.
"That particularly applies to patients who might be immune compromised. They might have transplants, they might be oncology or cancer patients," Dr. Citronberg said.
Some people leaving Christ hospital have reservations about the policy change.
"I think I'm used to it. I feel safer with it," Ford said. "I took it off during my test and put it right back on."
Meanwhile, other hospitals around Chicago said they're not making any changes to the masking policy just yet. That includes Northwestern and the University of Chicago Medicine. Rush has loosened visitor policies but is keeping its mask mandate in place for now.
Officials from Advocate Health said they'll continue to monitor the transmission levels during each season and make changes as needed.
The new policy begins on Monday.