OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state’s indoor mask mandate has an end date. Gov. Jay Inslee announced that face masks will no longer be required beginning March 21 for most settings, including schools and childcare facilities.
The state will still require masks to be worn in health care environments like hospitals and dental offices. Masks will also be required in long-term care settings and correctional facilities. Federal law also requires masks in certain places like public transportation and school buses.
The state will also drop the vaccine verification requirement for large events starting on March 1.
"We think that’s a very important step in the next part of our journey toward normalcy. I want to thank Washingtonians who have put us in a position to be able to make this progress," Inslee said during the press conference. "We are in a position to be able to make this progress because people have been careful, have by and large followed our mandates, and have been responsible. And most Washingtonians have got vaccinated as well. This is what has allowed us to be in this position to reduce these mask mandates."
Following the end of the mandate, businesses and local governments will still be allowed to implement their own vaccination or mask requirements for employees and customers. School districts can also decide to have students and teachers wear masks.
The state is still working on updated COVID-19 guidance for schools. The governor’s office said the state Department of Health would have more details the week of March 7.
While masks will no longer be required in schools after March 21, districts will still be required to report COVID-19 cases. Students and staff with symptoms of COVID-19 will still be required to quarantine and follow CDC and DOH isolation protocol.
Employers will be required to follow safe workplace protocols, even after the mask mandate ends. Employers must notify workers of potential exposures, and larger employers must report outbreaks to the state Department of Labor & Industries.
Employers must allow workers to wear masks if they choose.
The announcement comes as the spike in COVID-19 cases related to the Omicron variant is on a downward trend. Cases in Washington are dropping quickly, a trend that is expected to continue.
States with indoor mask mandates
Washington is currently one of just five states with an indoor mask mandate still in place. The other states with mandates include Oregon, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Mexico.
Oregon announced its indoor mask requirements would lift by March 31 at the latest. Another state, California, lifted its indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people on Wednesday. Unvaccinated people in California must still wear masks and some counties have kept masking rules in place.
A statewide indoor mask mandate has been in place in Washington since Aug. 23, 2021. An outdoor mask mandate was added in September for events with 500 or more people.
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Washington schools defy mask mandate
This week, at least two school districts in Washington voted to make masks optional for students and staff in defiance of the state’s mask mandate. The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has warned schools that they could lose state funding if they don’t follow the law.
The warning from Reykdal came after he sent a letter himself to Gov. Inslee last week asking him to remove the mask mandate in schools.
In that letter to the Governor, Reykdal said with high immunity rates and rapid testing available, now is the time to address masking in schools.
Dozens of other districts in eastern Washington sent a letter to Gov. Inslee asking the state to end the mask mandate for schools and move contract tracing responsibilities away from school districts.
Outdoor mask mandate ending
Inslee already announced that outdoor masking requirements will end on Feb. 18. That rule required masks to be worn at large outdoor events.
The state will also remove the requirement that hospitals postpone non-elective surgery on Feb. 18 and end hospital assignments for National Guard members.
Hospital visitor policies
As COVID-19 cases begin to trend downward in Spokane County, Providence Health Care announced that they will be updating their visiting policy for Providence Ministries in Spokane and Stevens counties. According to Providence, as of Thursday, Feb. 17:
- All non-COVID adult inpatients in hospitals and medical centers may have one visitor per day.
- Adult outpatients who have appointments at the hospital or clinic may have one support person.
- All non-COVID laboring inpatients may have one support person and one visitor during labor and birth process.