Gov. Jay Inslee speaks to students at Gonzaga University in Spokane on Feb. 18. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review via AP, file)

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks to students at Gonzaga University in Spokane on Feb. 18. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review via AP, file)

Cued by CDC, Inslee moves up end of mask mandate to March 12

Washington, Oregon and California together will lift mask requirements in most, but not all, settings.

OLYMPIA — Washingtonians can ditch face masks in most settings starting March 12. That’s nine days sooner than state officials originally sketched out.

The move hastens the state’s march toward normalcy, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to fall from this winter’s record-high numbers.

“We are turning a page in our fight against the COVID virus,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday at a news conference. “This page will be based more on empowering individuals and families in protecting themselves rather than based on government restrictions.”

Inslee was joined by the governors of California and Oregon in choosing March 12 to sunset their respective mask mandates.

The decision was spurred over the weekend by a major shift in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead of broad masking recommendations based on case counts, the federal agency is focusing on whether those infections pose a threat to local health care systems.

In low- to medium-risk counties, the CDC said, masks can safely be taken off. As of last week, that includes 30 of Washington’s 39 counties.

Earlier this month, Inslee described March 21 as the “magic point,” defined as when daily COVID admissions fall to five per 100,000 residents, which wouldn’t overburden the hospital system. Recent modeling shows the state is “closing rapidly” on that number, though it may not quite be there by next week, Inslee said Monday.

The governor said he will lay out the “next chapter” in the state’s response to the pandemic in coming days. The plan will ensure an adequate supply of vaccines and personal protective equipment, he said.

It won’t, however, include ending the statewide emergency.

That declaration won’t be lifted “in the near future,” he said. It is a necessary tool for the state to mandate masks in hospitals, long-term care facilities and prisons, to protect employees who choose to mask up at work from punishment and to receive federal funding.

“But I would note that we have now removed, if you ask the common citizen, 95% of the things that people have found controversial,” he said.

State Republican leaders said Monday the mask mandate and state of emergency should end immediately.

“Wearing a mask in public should be a personal choice. We should end the mask mandate today instead of almost two weeks from now,” Senate and House minority leaders John Braun, R-Centralia, and J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said in a joint statement.

The two GOP leaders said they were glad the mandate will disappear sooner but “disappointed that there seems to be no end in sight for the one-man rule he has enjoyed.”

Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, said the earlier expiration date will elicit “mixed feelings” among her constituents.

“Some people are still scared and concerned about COVID. They will want to feel assured they will still be safe,” she said. “Others are ready. They feel it is time for some relief.”

In Washington, masks will still be required in health care, long-term care and correctional facilities. Per federal law, face coverings must also be worn on public buses, light rail and in airports and airplanes.

Local health officers as well as businesses and local governments can still impose their own requirements. Snohomish County’s health officials have said they plan on deferring to state guidance.

School districts can make their own rules, too. But many K-12 leaders across the state have already signaled they will treat masks as optional after the state lifts its requirement.

“Some families may decide they are done wearing masks altogether, others will continue wearing them,” Everett Superintendent Ian Saltzman wrote to families this month. “We will support you, no matter what you decide.”

Under the CDC’s new guidance, masks are no longer required on school buses. However, in Washington, students and drivers must still wear them until the mandate ends at 11:59 p.m. March 11.

According to the Snohomish Health District’s most recent coronavirus data, local case counts are still declining. As of Friday, 48 people were hospitalized with the disease, compared to the county’s record of more than 200.

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @yawclaudia.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;; Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

More in Local News

The City of Arlington filed a lawsuit seeking the closure of the Smokey Point Motor Inn because of excessive criminal activity on the property. Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Arlington motel to stay open despite crime concerns

Police responded to the Smokey Point Motor Inn over 300 times in 2020. In the first six months of this year, that was down to 62.

Eric Wilkinson, a Community Transit driver of 17 years, departs from Seaway Transit Center in an empty 280 bus Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in Everett, Washington. Wilkinson said he usually has about 5 passengers from Boeing on the bus to Granite Falls, but had none Friday because Boeing was closed for the holiday weekend. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Driver shortage prompts Community Transit’s trip cut proposal

Reducing service, by 78 trips total on 9 routes, could make for more reliable arrivals and departures in March.

Inches of snow cover roads Saturday afternoon in downtown Edmonds, Washington on February 13, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Snow likely for much of Snohomish County this week

The National Weather Service forecast model shows probability over 60% for between 1 and 4 inches by Wednesday.

Pulitzer winner’s new book digs into Snohomish County cold case killings

The Everett library will host a talk with Edward Humes on “The Forever Witness,” about a double murder and pioneering DNA evidence.

Detonators seized from Jeffrey Carlton's vehicle in Everett in May. (U.S. Attorney's Office)
Man caught with illegal explosives in Everett sentenced to time served

Jeffrey Carlton has had a lifelong interest in explosives. He pleaded guilty to unlawfully owning them.

Man taken into custody after threats, standoff at Lynnwood business

After four hours, a SWAT team detained the man, who claimed to have a gun and barricaded himself in the 17700 block of Highway 99.

The Smith Ave homelessness camp Thursday afternoon in Everett on March 11, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Audit: Snohomish County lacks data-driven approach to homeless services

The Washington State Auditor’s Office this month published a 73-page report looking into four local governments across the state.

A sign posted on the door of Bits’n Pieces in Arlington. (Jacqueline Allison / The Herald)
‘3 Students’ max: Arlington businesses bemoan early release, rowdy teens

Since middle-school students started getting released at 1:15 p.m. Fridays, downtown businesses saw a rise in disruptive behavior.

Sunlight illuminates a framed photograph of Mila and Wilfrido Sarmiento while their daughter Rowella Sarmiento cries reading her statement to the court during Caleb Wride’s sentencing on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At sentencing, family mourns parents killed in fatal DUI crash

Caleb Wride, 23, of Everett, was sentenced Monday for the head-on crash that killed Mila and Wilfrido Sarmiento.

Most Read