CEO of hospital system recovered from virus, refuses to wear mask

The CEO of South Dakota-based Sanford Health, one of the largest regional health systems in the Midwest, said he has recovered from the coronavirus and will not wear a mask as he returns to the office.

>> Read more trending news

Kelby Krabbenhoft told the health system’s 50,000 employees in an email that he experienced coughs and fatigue but has recovered and will be maskless, citing immunity to the virus, CNN reported.

“For me to wear a mask defies the efficacy and purpose of a mask and sends an untruthful message that I am susceptible to infection or could transmit it,” Krabbenhoft wrote in the email. “I have no interest in using masks as a symbolic gesture. ... My team and I have a duty to express the truth and facts and reality and not feed the opposite.”

There is limited research into whether an infected person can be reinfected. There is no evidence to show that a person who has recovered from the virus can transmit it to others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a mask whether a person has been infected with the coronavirus or not.

>> Coronavirus: Reinfection within 6 months unlikely, study says

At least five other executives from the heath care company, which includes 46 hospitals and 1,400 physicians, sent a different message to staff in response.

“We know that words matter, and words have power, and we regret that the message left many frustrated and disappointed,” said the letter from Chief Operating Officer Matt Hocks and others. “Whether you’ve had the virus or not, it is recommended that you wear a mask when you cannot be socially distanced. Our masking policy for Sanford Health remains unchanged.”

Health care employees and visitors are required to wear masks at health care facilities, according to the company website.

Executive president Micah Aberson distanced the health care company from Krabbenhoft’s comments.

“They do not reflect the views of our health system as a whole,” Aberson said. “Sanford Health’s position is the same as it has always been — consistently wearing masks, avoiding crowds and staying home if you’re sick are critical to preventing the spread of the virus.”

Mask wearing has been a divisive issue throughout the country. In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem has not issued a mask mandate. The state is among the highest in per capita cases in the last week.

“You may choose to wear a mask and be concerned about the virus,” Noem said. “And if people are scared, I’m going to remind them, they should stay home.”

Krabbenhoft told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader he does not believe the state needs a mask mandate. He did say masks should be worn by some.

“For people who have not contracted the virus and may acquire it and then spread it, it is important for them to know that masks are just plain smart to use and in their best interest,” he wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.