Mask mandates lifting sooner than expected

West Coast governors announce March 12 end to mandates, including inside schools, as COVID-19 rates fall

Washington’s indoor mask mandate will end more than a week earlier than expected.

On Monday, Feb. 28, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee joined governors in Oregon and California in announcing the end of the statewide mask mandates in most places, including schools, as of March 12 –nine days earlier than the March 21 end date Inslee announced on Feb. 17.

“We’ve continued to monitor data from our state Department of Health, and have determined we are able to adjust the timing of our statewide mask requirement,” Inslee said Monday. “While this represents another step forward for Washingtonians, 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. As we transition to this next phase, we will continue to move forward together carefully and cautiously.”

On Feb. 17, Inslee said he was confident Washington would be able to remove the mask mandate by March 21, and be able to keep COVID-19 transmission rates low enough to avoid straining the state’s hospital systems.

“Our goal is to reduce infection rates low enough that hospitals are not jammed with COVID patients,” Inslee said then. “There is a hint of caution, though, as the hospitalization rate today is higher than at any time in the pandemic other than those in the past couple weeks. It’s still extremely high and continues to put pressures on our hospitals and continues to take lives in our state. We know we have a journey to get these numbers down.”

The governor said individual business owners will still be able to impose mask requirements and stressed that some people — including teachers and students — may still feel more comfortable wearing masks to protect themselves against the deadly virus.

Masks will still be required in certain settings including health care, corrections facilities, and long-term care facilities. Federal mask mandates still require people to wear masks on public transportation.

The Washington State Department of Health is expected to issue new guidance for K-12 schools next week, prior to the March 11 mask mandate expiration. Camas and Washougal school district officials said last week they intend to follow the state’s COVID mitigations recommendations and make masks optional for students and staff as soon as the governor lifts the statewide mandate.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also announced this week that she will lift the indoor mask mandate in her state on March 11.

“Two years ago today, we identified Oregon’s first case of COVID-19. As has been made clear time and again over the last two years, COVID-19 does not stop at state borders or county lines,” Brown said Monday. “On the West Coast, our communities and economies are linked. Together, as we continue to recover from the Omicron surge, we will build resiliency and prepare for the next variant and the next pandemic. As we learn to live with this virus, we must remain vigilant to protect each other and prevent disruption to our schools, businesses and communities — with a focus on protecting our most vulnerable and the people and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”

As of Monday Feb. 28, Washington state was reporting 241 cases of COVID per 100,000 residents, with 17 percent of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients and 67 percent of the total population fully vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus. In Clark County, the rate of new cases per 100,000 residents — measured over a 14-day period — was 527 per 100,000 as of Feb. 24, with 657 confirmed cases of COVID added between Feb. 17 and Feb. 24.

As of Feb. 24, 740 Clark County residents — including 10 recorded since the Feb. 17 update — have died of COVID.

Of the 462 COVID deaths recorded in Clark County between Jan. 17, 2021 and Jan. 20, 2022, the county’s department of health noted that 352 were unvaccinated prior to their death; 15 were partially vaccinated; 91 were fully vaccinated — but had not received a third “booster” shot — and four were fully vaccinated and boosted against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID.

The county recorded an additional 278 COVID deaths in the five weeks between Jan. 20 and Feb. 24. The ages of those who have died from the disease in Clark County include two people in their 20s, 19 in their 30s, 25 in their 40s, 70 in their 50s, 136 in their 60s, 184 in their 70s and 304 age 80 or older.