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Health officials urge adherence until Washington state lifts indoor mask mandate

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the state would lift its indoor mask mandate beginning March 21.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — On Thursday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced the end of the state’s indoor mask mandate effective March 21. 

Masks will no longer be required in most indoor public spaces including schools. Masks will still be required in medical facilities, school buses and public transit. Businesses and governments can also continue to require masks.

Inslee said the decision was based on state department of health data which showed COVID case numbers and hospitalizations are declining.

“I think we have a responsibility now over the next few weeks to really move this forward,” said Clark County Health Officer, Dr. Alan Melnick. He hopes people will continue to adhere to current indoor mask mandates so as not to jeopardize progress.

“In Clark County our case rate is still high, it's still double what it was at the peak of the delta surge, but it's less than half of what it was a few weeks ago,” said Melnick. “It's dropping pretty quickly and it's dropping across the state.”

Health officials stressed that lifting the state mask mandate doesn't mean people can't still wear masks when recommended. They also hope people will continue observing physical distancing and get a COVID booster shot.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Oregon would remove its indoor mask mandate by March 31 at the latest, depending in large part on hospitalization rates. The numbers peaked about two weeks ago and this week, declined dramatically.

RELATED: Oregon school districts will set own mask rules once statewide mandate ends by March 31

“I'm really encouraged by what I'm seeing,” said Dr. Peter Graven, director of the office of advanced analytics at OHSU. This is the hundredth week Graven has been developing COVID-19 forecasts. He's especially encouraged by the state’s declining hospitalization rates.

“I do think we'll continue to see it decline,” said Graven. “I know the state is looking at a number around 400. We thought we'd be there at the end of March; it looks like we may get there a couple weeks earlier than that, which is good news of course."

To that end, doctors say COVID variants are still unpredictable.

“God forbid,” said Melnick. “You know six months ago, I'd never heard of omicron.”

RELATED: Masks no longer required in most public spaces in Washington beginning March 21

Even so, health care providers are becoming better at responding to variants. In the meantime, there's hope.

“I think just if we can hang tight a little bit longer, on some of those key behavior metrics into March,” said Graven, “I think we'll be in good shape for April, May and the summer to be where hopefully we won't have to worry too much about COVID at all.”

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