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Inslee: Masks off on March 21

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | February 18, 2022 1:07 AM

OLYMPIA — As COVID-19 infection rates continue to fall, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the state’s mask mandate for schools and public places will end on March 21.

“We can remove the requirement to wear masks in most of our situations,” Inslee said. “So we will be removing the mask mandate in our schools, and in our public indoor spaces as of Monday, March 21.”

Speaking at an online press conference Thursday at 2 p.m., Inslee said the state of emergency, which he declared two years ago in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, would remain in place even after the mask mandate ends. He noted that the emergency decrees were tied to continued federal funding to fight the pandemic and ensure protections for workers and patients in hospitals, long-term care centers and schools.

“There is no dedicated end date for the state of emergency,” he added.

Inslee said mask mandates would end for schools, child care facilities, libraries, restaurants and bars, houses of worship, gyms and recreation centers, grocery stores, business and retailers.

However, state mandates will still be in place for medical facilities – including hospitals, clinics, dentists offices and pharmacies – long-term care centers, prisons and jails, public transit, and private businesses and local governments that wish to keep them in place.

Inslee said the COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates have fallen from their high in January, and are expected to drop below the rate of five per 100,000 people over a seven-day period needed to keep hospitals running relatively normally.

The goal, according to the governor, is to ensure that hospitals can continue to treat emergencies like heart attacks and accidents without having to worry too much about COVID-19 patients.

According to Lacy Fehrenbach, the deputy secretary of health for COVID-19 response, the COVID-19 case rate peaked statewide on Jan. 14 at 1,740 cases per 100,000 people during the previous seven days, and fell to 645 per 100,000 by Feb. 3.

“The case rate is declining,” she said.

Hospitalization rates are also falling from over 30 per 100,000 in January to around 22, according to Secretary of Health Umair Shah, and should continue to decline, which is “welcome news for all of us.”

Shah encouraged those with health conditions affecting their immune systems to take appropriate precautions such as masking in order to avoid contracting COVID-19.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said his office will work with the state Department of Health to develop guidelines for schools over the next two weeks and asked school districts considering lifting their mandates earlier to hold off until March 21.

“Schools will look very different on March 21,” Reykdal said.

Inslee said even as some of the mandates are ending, he continued to encourage people to get vaccinated. He added that COVID-19 is not going anywhere and will likely remain a fatal disease for some people for some time.

“We will have to figure out how to live with the virus,” he said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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