Saturday, July 02, 2022

Inslee to end mask mandate on March 12

by TIMOTHY FAIRBANKS-CLOUSER, Herald Legislative Writer
| March 1, 2022 1:05 AM

Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Monday that Washington’s indoor mask mandate would end on March 12 rather than March 21, as previously announced.

Washingtonians will be able to go about regular business; no longer being required to mask in schools, childcare facilities, libraries, restaurants and bars, houses of worship, Gyms, recreation and athletic facilities, grocery stores or retail establishments and other businesses.

“We’re turning a page in our fight against COVID,” Inslee said.

Washington should be out of the CDC’s high-risk category by March 11. Inslee said masks will still be required in high-risk settings such as health care and medical facilities, public transit, correctional facilities and private businesses upon request.

Inslee said his views on masks reflect the current CDC guidance. The CDC updated its enforcement discretion on Friday, no longer requiring people to mask indoors at public or private school systems, including transportation services for students.

Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, and House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, called for the mandate to end now instead of later, according to a statement released before Inslee’s announcement.

“While we’re glad to see Governor Inslee adjust his timeline for ending the statewide mask mandate to March 12, we’re disappointed that there seems to be no end in sight for the one-man rule he has enjoyed,” the Republican leaders said in the statement.

Inslee said Washington’s state of emergency, which grants him extended power, is needed to continue the mask mandate in hospitals and medical facilities. Continuing the emergency also makes acquiring federal aid easier. No date was set to lift Inslee’s emergency powers.

Washington joined Oregon and California in reducing the mandate period and allowing schools to move forward without masks once the mandate expires. Inslee said hospitalization rates are decreasing dramatically from the peak experienced in early January.

Inslee warned that a new variant could always come despite hospitalizations going down. However, he is confident the state can rely less on masks moving forward. Death and infection rates should follow the decreasing trend seen with hospitalizations.

“It’s been a marathon,” Inslee said. “We moved the tape, but let’s run through.”

Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said he recommends residents prioritize getting vaccinated against COVID-19, especially as the state lifts its mandate. He thanked the entire state for following the public guidance to curb the pandemic.

“This is a day of both hope and empowerment,” Shah said.

Individuals should continue to respect others around them who are more at risk of getting COVID-19, Shah said. He added that masks are still an effective deterrent in avoiding transmission and Washingtonians shouldn’t rush to discard their masks.

“This is not time to throw caution to the wind,” Shah said. “The pandemic is not over.”

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