OLYMPIA, Wash. – Starting March 21, masks will no longer be required in most places in Washington state, including restaurants, bars, schools, daycares, gyms, places of worship and grocery stores, a Governor Jay Inslee announced Thursday.
Masks will still be needed in health care settings such as hospitals, outpatient and dental practices, long-term care facilities, and correctional facilities.
Inslee also said that from March 1, vaccine verification for large events will no longer be required.
Federal law still requires face masks in certain settings such as public transportation and school buses.
Inslee said the March end date to lift the mask mandate is based on hospital admission projections. At Thursday’s press conference, he showed a graph that shows hospitalizations for COVID-19 are around 20 per 100,000 people. His goal is to bring that number down to 5, by which time he said hospitals can resume more normal operations.
“For those who think maybe it should end sooner, all I can tell you is that we lost 1,000 people in January to this disease,” he said. “And when we make decisions, it seems to me that we should recognize how dangerous and deadly this disease is still after this time.”
Where you will and won’t need masks from March 21, 2022.
The announcement comes as Washington’s outdoor mask mandate is set to expire on Feb. 18. Elective surgeries can also resume on this date.
Businesses and local governments can still choose to implement vaccination or face mask requirements for workers or customers, and school districts can still choose to have students and teachers wear masks.
King County Mask Mandate
Public Health Seattle & King County said it will continue to assess the appropriate time to lift the county’s interior masking order: “If cases and hospitalizations continue to decline and our hospitals recover and stabilize, as we all hope it’s reasonable that we’ll be somewhere to lift the local indoor mask mandate, but we’re not there yet.”
What is not yet known is which counties or school districts might decide to continue with local mask mandates.
Like the rest of the country, Washington — which first imposed a statewide mask mandate in June 2020 — has seen a steady decline in cases and hospitalizations since the peak of the omicron surge. last month.
Last May, the state changed its requirements to align with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which allowed vaccinated people to go indoors without a mask, but that exception was rescinded in August 2021. after the appearance of the delta variant. A face covering requirement for outdoor events of 500 or more people was imposed in September, but Inslee announced last week that the mandate would be lifted on Friday.
Democratic governors in several states have already ended or set dates to end masking rules in public places or schools. The governor of New Mexico announced on Thursday that the statewide mask mandate there has been lifted, effective immediately, leaving Hawaii as the only state that has not indicated when its indoor mask mandates will be. could be cancelled.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing on Wednesday that the government plans to change its mask guidelines in the coming weeks.
Republican legislative leaders slammed the news Thursday, saying it was time to end the mask mandate now.
“If anyone wants to wear a mask in public, it should be by choice — not by mandate,” Sen. John Braun and Rep. JT Wilcox said in a joint statement.
There have been more than 1.4 million confirmed or probable cases in the state since the start of the pandemic and 11,522 deaths.
More than 80% of Washington’s population ages 5 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine and nearly 73% is fully immunized.
Since this week, more than 2.5 million people have received either a booster or a third dose, according to the Ministry of Health.
Masks in schools
The state said that during the week of March 7, the Washington State Department of Health will release updated guidelines for K-12 schools that take effect March 21.
Schools will still be required to report cases and outbreaks of COVID-19 and cooperate with public health authorities to respond in accordance with procedures for other communicable diseases, the governor’s office said.
In recent days, school districts in eastern Washington have also voiced their opposition to mask mandates, with Kettle Falls and Richland districts voting to end those rules.
On Wednesday, 49 superintendents signed a letter to Governor Inslee, Superintendent Chris Reykdal and Health Secretary Dr Umair Shah calling for an end to masks in the classroom, as well as contact tracing under the ministry’s responsibility of Health.
Superintendent Reykdal joined Inslee at the press conference to discuss next steps for mask requirements in schools.
Vaccine verification policy ends in King County
Just a day earlier, King County announced it would end the county’s vaccine screening policy for entering restaurants, bars, theaters and gymnasiums on March 1.
The Dow Constantine executive said new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are declining.
More than 87% of King County residents ages 12 and older are fully immunized, and vaccination and booster rates continue to rise.
“As King County lifts this requirement, businesses and organizations can still choose to continue requiring vaccines to protect themselves, their employees and their customers,” Constantine said. “We support them in this choice.”
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King County’s vaccine requirement has been in effect since October 2021. Persons 12 and older must show proof that they are fully vaccinated or provide a negative COVID test performed within 72 hours of entry.
This applied to restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas and other places of entertainment. The mandate also applies to external events bringing together more than 500 people.
Constantine and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell also announced that they would begin, gradually, recalling the office of the thousands of county and city employees who have been working remotely for nearly two years. King County has about 7,000 employees working remotely and Seattle has about 5,000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
RELATED: Nearly 50 East WA superintendents call for end to mask mandate
READ MORE: Seattle, King County to end vaccine check policy at restaurants, gyms and theaters March 1
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