ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The New York State Department of Health will allow a mask mandate for healthcare facilities to expire this weekend.

Acting Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald made the announcement Thursday during a meeting of the state’s Public Health & Health Planning Council. “I want to underscore the pandemic is not over — we are in a period of transition, however,” Dr. McDonald told the panel.

While the requirement was extended as recently as late 2022, Dr. McDonald noted a steady drop in COVID cases and deaths in recent months “allows us to shift from blanket mandates to an approach in which we provide people with the information and tools they need to protect themselves and their families and their organizations.”

After the state mandate ends on February 12, the acting commissioner said the NYSDOH will be asking healthcare facilities to follow the CDC guidelines and come up with their own plan for when masking may be required for staff or patients.

Dr. McDonald pulled his mask out of his pocket and told the panel his mask isn’t going anywhere while emphasizing the importance of ongoing vaccination and booster efforts.

Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza spoke on the mandate expiration alongside Chief Medical Officers from Strong Memorial Hospital, Highland Hospital, and Rochester Regional Health.

“We are doing the safest thing possible,” Dr. Mendoza said. “As the hospitals have some time and as the practices have some time to evaluate the individual circumstances, I believe everyone will make the right decision.”

News 8 staff raised questions about how the ending of the mandate will change visitation.

“We are softening and loosening the visitor restrictions” Dr. Michael Apostolakos said. “Which will allow many areas of the hospital two visitors. For right now, they will need to continue to be masked while visiting. There are certain areas of the hospital where they will not allow two visitors.”

While the use of masks will no longer be required, health officials say masks will not be ruled out forever.

“Masks will always be a vital part of good health care” Rochester Regional Health Chief Officer Dr. Robert Mayo said. “We are in this moment now of reconsidering how masks are used from the COVID pandemic to how we balance that moving forward.”

The URMC says their medical facilities remain full, usually at 100 percent capacity or over capacity, but Dr. Apostolakos says it is getting closer to how it was prior to the pandemic.

“We are still very stressed by the inability to have patients who require nursing homes,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “We are working with local and state government to find solutions.”

President Biden recently declared the federal public health emergency would come to an end on May 11.

News 8 is reaching out to local health facilities to get their reaction to the announcement. We’ll have much more on and News 8 throughout the day.