Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that statewide mask orders will be ending for most indoor settings March 21, including K-12 schools and child care facilities. Masks will still be required in health care settings such as hospitals, outpatient and dental offices, long term care settings, and correctional facilities.
“The virus has changed significantly over the past two years, and so has our ability to fight it,” Inslee said at a Thursday press conference. “While caution is still needed, we are entering a new phase of the pandemic.”
The mask mandate for events with more than 500 people will expire Feb. 18. In addition, beginning March 1, vaccine verification for large events will no longer be required.
Businesses and local governments can still choose to implement vaccination or face mask requirements for workers or customers, and school districts can still choose to have students and teachers wear masks. Federal law still requires face masks in certain settings such as public transportation and school buses.
Edmonds School District Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said in a message to parents Thursday that the district will discuss mask-wearing requirements during the Edmond School Board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 22.
The State Department of Health will issue updated guidance the week of March 7 for K-12 schools that will go into effect March 21, the governor’s office said. The guidance will be released early to help schools prepare for this transition.
Schools will still be required to report COVID-19 cases and outbreaks, and cooperate with public health authorities in responding to these consistent with procedures for other communicable diseases.
Students and staff with symptoms of COVID-19 will continue to be required to quarantine away from school buildings. Schools must also ensure access to testing for staff and students who have symptoms of or who may have been exposed to COVID-19. If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they must remain at home and follow the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Health isolation protocol.
The Department of Health will also shift existing requirements regarding distancing, ventilation, and sanitation so they become recommendations.
“The fact that these restrictions are being relaxed over the next few weeks is a sign that Snohomish County’s residents have taken the necessary steps to put the omicron variant behind us,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said Thursday. “The sacrifices everyone has made over the last two years have saved lives and prevented the worst from happening. While the pandemic is not over, we have reached a point where vaccines, knowledge about the virus, and the adaptability of our institutions have given us this opportunity to take a step forward. We will continue to monitor local hospitals and ensure we are prepared in case a new variant arrives.”
The Snohomish Health District emphasized in a separate announcement that the governor’s action does not signal the end of the possible need for masking nor the end of the COVID pandemic. All people in Snohomish County, including employers and organizations, are required under the county health officer’s order to continue to follow the state requirements, including the masking order that remains in effect until March 20, as well as all other state requirements still in effect beyond March 20, the health district said.
“What has been announced reflects the ongoing evolution of our COVID response,” said County Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters. “Masks themselves are not going away as a prevention measure. I still strongly recommend that all people in high-risk settings, all people who are not up to date on their vaccines, or those who are immunocompromised should continue to wear them in public indoor and crowded outdoor settings.”
Masks will also continue to be required for isolation and quarantines practices, the health district said. If someone who was COVID-positive is returning to work, school, or other public settings after a five-day isolation period, they must wear a well-fitting mask for six to 10 days after their symptom onset or positive test result. Anyone who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 must continue to wear a mask when around others for the full 10 days after exposure.
For more information, the Snohomish Health District has developed a list of commonly asked questions about mask requirements.
“It is important that we remain vigilant and flexible for future times when it may become advisable to resume universal use of masks to protect ourselves, others, the healthcare system and other essential societal functions,” added Spitters. “In the meantime, anyone who feels more comfortable wearing one should also continue doing so.”
The health district said it urges all people, enterprises, and organizations in Snohomish County to comply with these requirements and to respect the right of people to continue wearing masks, even in settings where they are not required.
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