Inslee announces loosening of state mask mandate starting March 21

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that starting March 21, masks will not be required in most places in Washington state.

Washington residents will no longer have to mask up in schools, child care facilities, restaurants, bars, houses of worship, gyms, grocery stores and other retail establishments.

Masks are still required in health care settings such as hospitals and dental offices, long-term care settings and correctional facilities. Federal law still requires masks on public transportation.

Businesses and local governments can still choose to require face masks for workers or customers.

School districts can also still choose to require students and teachers to wear masks.

Washington’s current indoor mask mandate restarted on Aug. 23, as the delta variant caused COVID-19 cases to spike.

Inslee also announced that the Department of Health is issuing updated guidance for K-12 schools during the week of March 7 that will go into effect March 21.

Schools will still be required to report COVID-19 cases and outbreaks and cooperate with local health authorities.

The DOH will also shift existing requirements for distancing, ventilation and sanitation so they become recommendations.

While COVID-19 cases are down, the governor reminded Washingtonians that the virus is still a workplace hazard and employers must continue to take steps to minimize risk to employees.

However, Republicans in the state legislature are questioning why the governor is waiting five weeks to end the mandate.

“You’re going to see people that are just done with it and feel empowered because the governor has said that it’s going to end and then you’re going to see people that feel very compliant and are going to be angry at those that feel differently,” said state Rep. J. T. Wilcox.

Local governments still have the option to put their own restrictions in place.

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn says it’s time for local governments and the state to be on the same page.

“If you’re going to end the mask mandate, which you should have a while back, you do it in harmony together and you make it close to proximity to today, say a week from now at the longest,” said Councilmember Dunn.