by Brooklynn Hillemann
WNPA News Service
With data indicating a decline in cases and COVID-19 related hospitalizations, the state is entering a period where restrictions can be lifted, Gov. Jay Inslee said.
While there is no date to end the universal indoor mask mandate, Inslee said the pause on elective surgeries and procedures at hospitals will end on Feb. 17. Additionally, the mandate requiring masking for outdoor events with 500 people or more will expire a day later.
“I think it would be helpful for Washingtonians to have a goal and helpful for them to do whatever planning is necessary for that transition,” Inslee said.
The announcement comes days after several states, including California and Oregon, said they will begin dropping mandatory mask requirements.
Oregon state officials said most restrictions will be lifted by March 31 at the latest, with consideration for an earlier date if COVID-19 hospitalizations decline earlier than expected.
In California, the indoor mask requirement for vaccinated people will end on Feb. 15 but will remain in place for unvaccinated people and schoolchildren.
Washington health officials said data suggest a continued downturn in the number of Omicron cases across Western Washington, with the peak of positive cases being recorded nearly one month ago.
“We are optimistic that these numbers will continue to decline in a way that will let us revisit the mask requirements in the near future,” Inslee said.
While an end to the statewide mandate may be in the state’s future, Inslee said businesses and local health districts will still be able to make independent decisions regarding COVID masking.
Inslee said it is likely the mandate for indoor settings and school will expire at the same time.
Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal released a statement earlier in the week calling for an end to the mask mandates in schools.
“With high immunity rates and our ability to carry out rapid antigen tests with nearly every school district participating in our state’s COVID-19 testing program, the time is now to rebalance the health and educational benefits of masking in our schools,” the statement read.
Inslee said Reykdal is suggesting an end to the mandate in the near future, not today. He said health and government officials will wait to see more data before they announce a specific end date.
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