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Indoor mask rules may be eased soon

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — As COVID-19 cases drop, the state may set a date to drop its indoor mask mandate.
Gov. Jay Inslee said he anticipates he’ll announce it as soon as this week. Oregon and California are among several states lifting theirs; Oregon says its mask rule will end by March 31.
Our state’s outdoor mask mandate on large concerts and outdoor events with more than 500 people in attendance will lift Feb. 18. The statewide ban on elective surgeries, established to preserve hospital space for COVID patients, ends Feb. 17, Inslee announced last week.
He wouldn’t tip off a date for ending the indoor masking rule.
“We are having conversations and an intensive review of what day it will be, and when we can do this. It is no longer a matter of if, it is a question of when,” Inslee said during a Feb. 9 press conference.
An end to mandatory masking in school would most likely be set for the same time, Inslee said. State K-12 schools chief Chris Reykdal called on Inslee to soon ease the state’s blanket school mask mandate and to let local health authorities decide.
The tidal shift on masks is because infections by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus have fallen, and unlike past waves, so far no other variant has stepped in to overtake it.
In Snohomish County last week, the case rate dropped 33% compared to the week prior, and new hospitalizations dropped almost 33%, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. There were 5,443 total cases logged in the county from Feb. 5 to 12. Omicron’s contagiousness played a part in causing never-before-seen numbers of new infection cases, but it’s also already peaked and now the case rate is swiftly dropping.
By late January, Omicron was the only variant circulating in Washington state. Delta is gone, from virus specimen data collected by the state Department of Health (DOH).
A sister version of Omicron noted in early January, called Omicron BA.2, has not spread wildly as previously feared.
Hospitalization admissions and disease severity are driving the decision-making, Inslee and state DOH Deputy Secretary Lacy Fehrenbach both said at the conference.
Virus modeling data says coronavirus hospitalizations will reduce rapidly, reaching a nominal hospitalization rate by late March. Washington’s model parallels the trends that have already happened nationally. Washington state lagged as to when Omicron arrived compared to other states.
Last year, mask requirements were temporarily dropped for vaccinated people. It lasted from May until Aug. 23, when everyone was required to mask up again when the Delta variant emerged.




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