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As outdoor event mask mandate end nears, Spokane's top health official says they're still required in other settings

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Washington State’s outdoor event mask mandate will end Friday, and the governor is anticipated to announce other mask mandate changes this week.

Spokane Regional Health Officer, Dr. Francisco Velazquez, says even if legal requirements to wear masks change, they are still one of the best tools to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Despite the fact that in some environments, like outdoors, there will be a realignment of any mask requirements,” he said, “there are still many areas in which masking is a reasonable precaution and has been a reasonable precaution with other respiratory diseases with the flu or any other conditions that we have.”

Velazquez says KN-95 masks are the most effective at limiting the spread of the omicron variant, the variant that has fueled the spike in Spokane County's COVID-19 cases.

Spokane County’s new COVID-19 case numbers are falling, trending a few weeks behind the rest of the state. However, Velazquez says current case numbers and traffic to the region’s four mass testing sites, are still above earlier waves of the pandemic.

"We do want to keep the availability in the event if the need continues, and or we see an increase because of any other variant that may come down the road,” he said. “Our goal right now is to keep that available to the community."

Velazquez says the four sites have helped preserve testing capacity in the region’s healthcare system. Currently the Spokane region is reporting between 100 to 300 new cases a day. Around 190 people are currently hospitalized.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.