OLYMPIA — Washington’s mask mandate for schools, restaurants and commercial settings will end March 21, as the state shifts to a new phase of the pandemic response, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday (Feb. 17).
But face coverings will still be required in health care settings such as hospitals, outpatient clinics and dental offices, as well as in long term care settings and correctional facilities, he said at a news conference.
And under federal law, masks must still be worn when traveling on public buses, light rail and school buses, he said.
Inslee also said proof of vaccination will not be required at large outdoor events — events with crowds of 500 or more — starting March 1. Starting Friday, those events don’t require masks, either.
Meanwhile, on March 1, King County will stop making people show proof of COVID vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, theaters and gyms.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, who joined Inslee at the news conference, had publicly called for lifting the mandate while maintaining strong safety protocols and making rapid tests available on campuses.
Masks are not all that are going away in schools.
Starting March 21, a requirement to keep students at least three feet apart in classrooms will become a recommendation. Same for ventilation and sanitation directives.
Schools will still be required to report cases and outbreaks, and to cooperate with public health authorities in responding to them.
Students and staff with symptoms of COVID-19 will still have to quarantine away from school buildings. If a student or staff member tests positive, they must remain at home per isolation protocols issued by state and federal health authorities.
While the state eases its rules, Inslee said businesses and local governments can impose their own vaccination or face mask requirements for workers or customers. School districts can still choose to have students and teachers wear masks.
Washington joins a growing list of states ditching an effective, and divisive, restriction as COVID cases decline. California’s requirements ended Tuesday. Oregon’s is set to end no later than March 31.
Those rules are going away as new infections and COVID-related hospitalizations drop. Still, transmission of the potentially deadly virus is high across Washington. On Tuesday, there were 3,897 new cases reported by the state Department of Health.