By Brooklynn Hillemann
WNPA Olympia News Service
OLYMPIA — Washingtonians will see the end of the state masking mandate 10 days earlier than expected following a dramatic decline in COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths.
“We want to move forward as a state at the appropriate time,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Feb. 28. After March 11, face masks will no longer be required in most settings, including schools, restaurants and businesses.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated masking guidelines the week prior, with a focus on altering restrictions to fit the transmission and hospitalization rates by county. According to the map, all but nine counties within Washington fall into the low and medium risk categories and may safely stop wearing masks.
Inslee said health officials are confident the entirety of the state will be out of the high-risk category by the end of next week.
March 21 was the original end date for the mandate, with the daily COVID admissions projected to fall to 5 per 100,000 residents.
Inslee said recent modeling shows the state is approaching that goal, but may not reach it by the new deadline.
Masks will still be required in certain settings including healthcare facilities, long-term care settings, and in correctional facilities. Private businesses and local health jurisdictions will have the ability to implement their own regulations.
Federal guidelines still require the use of masks on public transit and at airports, but no longer on school buses.
“This is not a time to throw caution to the wind. Remember, the pandemic is not over,” said Dr. Umair Shah, secretary of the Washington State Department of Health. “While we will no longer require masks in most places, we know masks still offer protection.”
While the mandate has a specific deadline, Inslee said he will maintain the emergency declaration.
He said the order is necessary to maintain the mask mandate within healthcare settings and protect individuals’ rights to continue wearing masks at work. Additionally, it allows the state to use federal relief funding.
Republican leaders said the state of emergency should end immediately.
“Tomorrow marks the start of the third year of the people being shut out of the decision-making process,” Senate and House minority leaders John Braun, R-Centralia, and J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said in a joint statement following the governor’s announcement.