4 states plan to lift school mask mandates; Washington will revisit in ‘near future’

SEATTLE — Four states - including neighboring state Oregon --  have announced plans to drop mask mandates for schools.

The lifting of restrictions won’t take place for a few weeks at the earliest. Oregon plans to lift indoor mask restrictions by March 31. The new timelines are being set as omicron cases continue to plunge.

Now some Washington parents are wondering when Washington state might follow suit, while other parents say they’re not ready for the change yet.

“I think it’s too soon,” said Andrea Ichikawa, mom to a first grader and preschooler. “For us as a family, I still have an unvaccinated four year old so masking is going to keep happening,” she said.

Other parents say wearing a mask in school for so long has taken a toll on their kid’s development.

“We working on speech and we just started school this January. So it makes it difficult to communicate and understand,” said Rocio Cruz, another Seattle mom. Her daughter, Sol, is 7 years old and a special needs student.

When asked how she feels about face masks, Sol gave a big thumbs down to KIRO 7′s cameras.

Cruz says she understands the necessity of masks to protect against COVID but also urges public health to consider the toll, particularly on special needs kids.

“It’s good to re-think about different aspects of this,” Cruz said. “Getting to know the school teacher and classmates, it’s difficult to build up the relationship with the face masks,” she said.

Dr. Shaquita Bell is the senior medical director at the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic. She says while many kids have no trouble with masks, there can be a negative side.

I’ve definitely had children in my practice who do struggle to learn adequately, either remotely or with masks because you do lose a lot of communication,” Bell said.

But she and other doctors point out the current rate of infection from COVID is still extremely high.

“Even though the numbers have come down, we’re still over the delta peak in terms of numbers and new daily cases,” said  Dr. Martin Brueggemann, chief medical officer of Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Bell says she believes it’s not time yet to start discussing dates for lifting mask mandates, given the unpredictability of the virus.

“We have to be flexible. If you ask me today? It’s too soon,” Bell said. But she says plans moving forward should consider a more equitable approach.

“What I think would be nice is if we think about equity, we think about what every kid needs. If a kid has a learning disability, hearing loss or deafness, if we have ways to make accommodations for what kids need, I think that would be the best scenario,’ Bell said.

In an email Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said: “We are continuing to track cases, hospitalizations and deaths. 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.”