Washington will go mask-off most places starting March 21, and vaccine verification for large events will no longer be required as of March 1, Governor Jay Inslee announced during a press conference on Thursday. The only places where you'll still need to wear a mask after the third week of March include public transit, ride-shares, health care facilities, and jails.
Though businesses and other institutions can choose to keep mask and vaccine proof requirements in place for as long as they'd like, and though workers can continue wearing masks if they'd like, enforcement will ultimately be left to underpaid employees just trying to make it through their shift at Applebee's without getting hacked to pieces.
During the press conference, Inslee said he arrived at the end date based on a projection from the Department of Health (DOH) showing hospital admissions trailing off sometime in the middle of March:
That said, he pointed to current high COVID case rates and especially high hospitalization rates and urged everyone to continue masking and keeping safe distances until we "run through the tape" of this pandemic and bring both rates down.
For those who think his date is too far away, Inslee said, "All I can tell you is we lost a thousand people in January to this disease. A thousand people." For those who think the date is too soon, he highlighted the state's "demonstrated commitment" to health and safety, and he vowed to "knock this disease down low enough so our hospitals can be safe."
According to prepared remarks, the state will still require employers to notify the whole company when an employee catches a case of COVID, and places with 50 or more employees will need to report outbreaks of 10 or more confirmed cases to the Washington Department of Labor & Industries.
Schools will also still need to continue reporting COVID-19 outbreaks (contra dumb demands from superintendents out east), keep testing supplies around to monitor students and staff with symptoms, and tell anyone who tests positive to quarantine at the house. Sometime during the week of March 7 the DOH will update guidance, and on March 21 the agency will officially change distancing, ventilation, and sanitation measures from "requirements" to "recommendations."
The announcement follows a bunch of other announcements related to easing restrictions and returning to "normal life," at least until the unvaccinated parts of the world produce another strain of COVID-19. Washington's outdoor mask mandate ends tomorrow, and King County's vaccine verification requirements at "restaurants, bars, theaters and gyms" will end on March 1. According to the county's dashboard, nearly 80% of all residents have been fully vaccinated.
A tally from the New York Times shows that four other states plus D.C. still have statewide mask mandates in place, though the ones in Illinois, D.C., and Oregon will lift in the coming weeks.