EVERETT — “Nervous.” “Thrilled.” “Left behind.”
The state’s mask mandate lifted Saturday at the stroke of midnight, churning mixed emotions in Snohomish County.
For Lynnwood resident Layla Bush, the milestone means finally seeing “people’s beautiful smiles again.”
“I’m triple vaxxed, immunocompromised and absolutely thrilled about the end of the mask mandate,” Bush said, adding that she was diligent about masks until she got vaccinated. “Now with vaccines and an increasing number of treatments for COVID, I’m ready for masks to be off.”
For some, the step signals a new, optimistic chapter of the pandemic — one that looks and feels more normal.
For others, it feels like a flashback to last summer, when Washington lifted restrictions only to clamp back down amid a massive surge in infections fueled by a new variant.
June Evers, a Marysville artist living with a chronic illness, said they and their family and friends who also have compromised immune systems “feel hurt and left behind.” According to state Department of Health data, case rates are still above what officials have considered safe for the majority of the pandemic.
“Some of us are starting to feel like our community wants us dead as long as it means they don’t have to wear a little piece of fabric on their faces for a small period of time in their day,” said Evers, who will continue masking. “I’m aware of how little it helps when the majority is not doing the same, but I’m still doing my part.”
Disability rights activist Lei Wiley-Mydske, who lives in Stanwood, echoed the sentiment. Immunocompromised folks, she said, “don’t have the luxury of unmasking, and we really don’t have the luxury of other people unmasking so soon, either.”
Local COVID infections are still rapidly declining. Over the course of about eight weeks, the county’s two-week case rate has plummeted from 3,556 per 100,000 to 145, according to county data. Local hospitals, once packed with about 230 COVID patients, were treating just 20 on Friday.
“Choose your metric, and those have all been coming down in parallel,” Snohomish County Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters said this week.
Now the Snohomish Health District is winding down its COVID response, shifting responsibility to individual people, organizations, school districts and the health care system.
County-run vaccine and testing sites have been serving fewer and fewer people and will close at the end of the month.
“Ultimately, I think all entities and organizations need to transition to self-reliance around this,” Spitters said.
Still, Spitters and the county’s top official, Executive Dave Somers, said they’ll both continue masking in public regardless of any mandates. And they’ll be monitoring COVID activity to gauge whether restrictions need to be reintroduced.
“It’s not like masks are making a political statement,” Somers said. “But they’re trying to keep loved ones healthy and alive. And I myself have a person in my family who is going through treatment and is in a vulnerable state.”
Even people eager to ditch masks where they can should keep some on-hand.
Face coverings are still mandated in health care, long-term care and correctional facilities. Plus, the federal Transportation Security Administration is extending its mask mandate until April 18. That covers airplanes, public buses, trains and transportation hubs.
The bus may be one of the safest places from COVID after Friday.— Raven Campbell (@raven_mcampbell) March 10, 2022blockquote>