Gov. Inslee and King County Announce End to Mask Mandate as of March 12

by Sally James

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Feb. 28 that State mandates for indoor masking would lift on March 12.

“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,” he cautioned in a written announcement

During an online media event a few hours after the release of the announcement, Inslee explained that the decision to end the mandate sooner was based on predictions that the cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19 would be low enough to make this a safe choice. 

During a question-and-answer period at the event, reporters asked the governor about the timing.

“We see this as the reasonable approach and a safe thing to do,” he said, explaining that Washington is choosing to end the mandate for both indoor businesses and schools on the same date in order to make things simpler for families. 

Masks will remain required by federal regulations for transportation, such as on airplanes, buses, and trains. They are also required by the State in health-care settings, long-term care centers, and correctional facilities.

Children on school buses in Washington will continue masking until March 12, although the Centers for Disease Control has already lifted a federal requirement for school buses.

The State had earlier set a date of March 21 for lifting the mask mandate.

Cities and counties can continue mandates after the State one lifts, but Public Health — Seattle & King County announced on social media that it will lift the County mandate in lockstep with the State on March 12. In a blog post explaining the decision, officials wrote that based on new guidance from the CDC, the County’s cases are at “low levels.” 

Based on data collected by The New York Times, the state of Washington averaged about 15 cases per 100,000 people as of Feb. 24.  The governor had said in past weeks that he would lift the mask mandate when the state’s average reached five per 100,000. He told his audience at the event he was confident that in the next 10 days or so the rate would drop near that level.

Inslee was asked about lifting his declaration of an emergency due to pandemic and he said he would not lift it because it was helping the state in three ways: It helps mandate masks in hospitals, it helps him allow employees to continue to mask if they wish, and it helps the State secure federal funds that would not be available without the declaration, he said.

“It’s been a long two years,” Inslee said. “Let’s get to the next chapter.” 

Sally James is a science writer in Seattle. You can read more of her work at www.seattlesciencewriter.com. She’s written about biotech, cancer research, and health literacy and volunteered as president of the nonprofit Northwest Science Writers Association.

Featured image is attributed to the Flickr account of Governor Jay & First Lady Trudi under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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