OLYMPIA — Washington’s statewide indoor mask mandate in public places, one of the few left in the country, will be lifted on March 21, including at schools and child care facilities, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday, and Clallam and Jefferson counties will follow suit.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, we are transitioning into a new phase of our response,” said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, in press releases issued after Inslee’s announcement on Thursday.
“With COVID-19 case numbers decreasing and rising levels of population immunity in our community, we do believe that by the end of March, it will be safe to relax some of our COVID-19 mitigation measures,” she added.
Berry did, however, recommend that people continue to wear masks in indoor public settings even after the health order is lifted, especially those at high risk of severe disease due to COVID-19. She also encouraged the community to support the decision of any businesses that chooses to maintain a masking policy.
Also, starting on March 1, the state requirement for entrance into large events of 500 or more of vaccine verification or proof of a negative COVID-19 test will no longer be in force.
Masks still will be required in health care settings, like hospitals and doctor’s offices, and at long-term care facilities and prisons and jails. They also will still be required on public transit, taxis and ride shares and school buses.
Private businesses and local governments that want to require masks for employees, customers or residents can still require them.
Like the rest of the country, Washington — which first imposed a statewide mask mandate in June 2020 — has seen a steady decline in both cases and hospitalizations since the height of the omicron surge last month.
Last May, the state changed its requirements to align with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which allowed vaccinated people to go without a mask indoors, but that exception was rescinded in August 2021 after the delta variant emerged.
A face covering requirement for outdoor events of 500 or more people was imposed in September, but Inslee announced last week that mandate would lift today.
Also starting today, non-urgent procedures — which have been on hold since last month due to concerns about hospital capacity — can resume, since the governor decided to not extend the ban beyond the set four weeks.
Democratic governors in several states already have ended, or set dates to end, masking rules in public places or in schools. New Mexico’s governor announced Thursday that the statewide mask mandate would be lifted immediately, leaving Hawaii as the only state that has not indicated when its indoor mask mandates may be rescinded.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Wednesday that the government is contemplating a change to its mask guidance in the coming weeks.
On Wednesday, King County — where Seattle is located — announced it will no longer require COVID vaccination checks to enter restaurants, bars, theaters and gyms beginning March 1.
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 percent of the Washington population age 5 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, and nearly 73 percent is fully vaccinated.
As of this week, more than 2.5 million people have either received a booster or a third dose, according to the Department of Health.