Mask mandate to be lifted earlier than first announced

— Created March 1, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday an even earlier end to the state’s mask mandate.

Effective at 12 a.m. March 12, masks will no longer be required in most indoor settings, including schools, childcare facilities, libraries, restaurants and bars, churches, gyms and indoor athletic facilities, grocery stores and retail establishments.

Masks WILL still be required in healthcare and medical/dental facilities, long term care facilities and correctional facilities. The federal mask requirement for public transportation also remains in effect. Private businesses and local governments and health jurisdictions may still require masks for employees, customers or residents.

“We’ve continued to monitor data from our state Department of Health and have determined we are able to adjust the timing of our statewide mask requirement,” Inslee said in a joint statement released Monday morning. “While this represents another step forward for Washingtonians, we must still be mindful that many within our communities remain vulnerable. Many businesses and families will continue choosing to wear masks, because we’ve learned how effective they are at keeping one another safe. As we transition to this next phase, we will continue to move forward together carefully and cautiously.” 

Inslee had earlier announced the mask mandate would be lifted March 21, but in a press conference Monday afternoon, he expressed confidence the number of cases of COVID and hospitalizations will continue to decline.

“Our epigraph has shown a very significant decline in the last month and we’ve seen a consistent level of reduction, which has continued in the last couple of weeks,” he said. “Obviously the virus is still active in our state, but we are confident that decline will continue, which allows us to make a decision today to accelerate the date.”

“This updated timeline is a direct result of following the science and also after careful review of the CDC and its guidance that was released last Friday,” said Dr. Umair Shah, Washington State Secretary of Health. “This has been a tough two years for everyone, we know that. But those who have gotten their vaccine, worn their masks and followed public health guidance during this time, I really just want to say ‘thank you’ to all of you for doing so.

“However, this is not a time to throw caution to the wind,” Shah continued. “Remember, the pandemic is not over. While we will no longer require masks in most places, we know a mask still offers protection. We also want to remember that as the state lifts our statewide requirements, our local health jurisdictions, local health officers and businesses have the right to enact their own policies related to masks as they see fit.”

Updated safety measures for K-12 schools are expected to be announced by the state DOH next week.