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Regional News

Inslee announces Washington’s mask mandate will lift ahead of schedule, on March 12

People hugging while wearing masks
Megan Farmer/KUOW
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Safia Hussein, center, hugs her sons, 4th-grade student Anwaar Boneya, left, and 2nd-grade student Sabir Boneya, right, before they head into their first day of school at Wing Luke Elementary School on Wednesday, September 1, 2021. On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the state's indoor mask rule would end on March 12.

With COVID cases and hospitalizations dropping fast, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday that the state’s indoor mask mandate will lift on Saturday, March 12, 10 days earlier than previously announced.

Oregon and California were also expected to adopt the March 12 deadline to lift most of their remaining masking requirements. Previously, Oregon had set March 31 as the date its face covering requirement would end.

Last week, that was moved up to March 19. Oregon's COVID state of emergency is scheduled to expire April 1.

“While this represents another step forward for Washingtonians, we must still be mindful that many within our communities remain vulnerable,” Inslee said in a prepared statement. “Many businesses and families will continue choosing to wear masks, because we’ve learned how effective they are at keeping one another safe.”

The announcement Monday — almost two years to the day after Washington recorded what was thought to be the first COVID death in the nation — followed discussions over the weekend between the states, according to Inslee’s office.

It also comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its mask guidance last week. Under the new guidance, universal indoor mask usage is only recommended in areas with high disease activity.

According to the CDC’s disease activity map, eight of Washington’s 39 counties remain in the high category.

While the CDC has also lifted a federal mask mandate for school buses, Inslee will require that school children and bus drivers continue to mask up to ride the bus until March 12. Masks, however, will not be required in schools, although districts may still recommend them.

Previously, Inslee had announced that the state’s indoor mask requirement would lift on Monday, March 21 — except for healthcare and medical facilities, long-term care settings and correctional institutions. At the time, the governor said he was waiting for the COVID hospitalization rate to reach five per 100,000 residents.

The state’s COVID dashboard shows that as of February 12, the most recent date for which data is available, the hospitalization rate was 13.5 per 100,000. Meanwhile, case counts had dropped to 314 per 100,000 people putting the state much closer to pre-omicron surge levels.

Inslee was scheduled to hold a press conference at 1 p.m. Monday to discuss the changes.