Washington State to lift indoor mask mandate on March 21 | Government and politics

RACHEL LA CORTEAssociated Press

OLYMPIA — Washington’s statewide indoor mask mandate, one of the few remaining in the country, will be lifted March 21, including in schools and daycares, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday. .

And from March 1, vaccine verification or proof of a negative COVID-19 test will no longer be required for participation in major events.

Masks will still be needed in health care settings, like hospitals and doctor’s offices, as well as in long-term care facilities, jails and jails. They will also still be required on public transport, taxis, carpools and school buses.

Private businesses and local governments that want to require masks for employees, customers, or residents can still require them.

“The virus has changed significantly over the past two years, as has our ability to fight it. While caution is still warranted, we are entering a new phase of the pandemic,” Inslee said at Thursday’s press conference.

Like the rest of the country, Washington — which first imposed a statewide mask mandate in June 2020 — has seen a steady decline in cases and hospitalizations since the peak of the omicron surge. last month.

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Inslee said he wants to bring the state to a level of about five COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents before lifting the mandate. Projections show the state hitting that target around March 21, he said.

Washington’s hospitalization rate was about 22 per 100,000 people from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, the most recent full week. That’s down from the peak of 27.7 per 100,000 from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20, but still above last fall’s peak of 18 per 100,000.

Cowlitz County

Cowlitz County’s hospitalization rate is above the state average and does not appear to be decreasing. The county recorded 28 new hospitalizations per 100,000 people from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, the most recent full week.

County health officer Dr. Alan Melnick said Thursday that while rates in Cowlitz and Clark counties are above the state average, they are falling. It is important that residents continue to adhere to the mask requirement until it is lifted in mid-March, he said.

“If we want this to work and get out of it, we have a responsibility to prevent transmission in the future, so hopefully those numbers will go down,” Melnick said.

Changes

Last May, the state changed its requirements to align with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which allowed vaccinated people to go indoors without a mask, but that exception was rescinded in August 2021. after the appearance of the delta variant. A face covering requirement for outdoor events of 500 or more people was imposed in September, but Inslee announced last week that the mandate would be lifted on Friday.

Also starting Friday, non-emergency procedures – which have been on hold since last month due to concerns over hospital capacity – can resume, as the governor decided not to extend the ban beyond the set four weeks.

Democratic governors in several states have already ended or set dates to end masking rules in public places or schools. The governor of New Mexico announced on Thursday that the statewide mask mandate there has been lifted, effective immediately, leaving Hawaii as the only state that has not indicated when its indoor mask mandates will be. could be cancelled.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing on Wednesday that the government plans to change its mask guidelines in the coming weeks.

On Wednesday, King County – where Seattle is located – announced that it will no longer require COVID vaccination checks to enter restaurants, bars, theaters and gymnasiums starting March 1.

There have been more than 1.4 million confirmed or probable cases in the state since the start of the pandemic and 11,522 deaths.

More than 80% of Washington’s population ages 5 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine and nearly 73% is fully immunized.

Since this week, more than 2.5 million people have received either a booster or a third dose, according to the Ministry of Health.

Daily News reporter Katie Fairbanks contributed to this story.

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