Pressure grows for Inslee to roll back mask mandate

OLYMPIA, Wash. — With California and Oregon rolling back indoor mask mandates, pressure is growing on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to do the same.

Washington’s current mask rule began last August in the Delta surge.

Now, with Omicron declining, Oregon plans to end its indoor mask mandate by March 31, and California will allow vaccinated people to go maskless inside starting Feb. 15.

Inslee’s office said he was not available for an interview Tuesday, but wrote, “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.”

Inslee plans to talk with reporters on Wednesday.

Republican party leaders say a change should happen soon.

“I absolutely think it is time to roll back the mask mandate,” said GOP state party chair Caleb Heimlich.

Ali Mokdad at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects that by mid-March at the latest, we will be out of a pandemic phase as COVID becomes endemic.

“It’s the beginning of the end, it’s not the end, it’s the beginning of the end. And yes, by the end of this month, our level of infection will be very low,” Mokdad said.

Mokdad said its important for officials to soon announce criteria for rescinding the mask mandate.

“You don’t want to lose trust. It’s very important to build trust, it’s very important to level with the public,” Mokdad said.

Still, on a hospital association call Tuesday, there was hesitation about rolling back too quickly.

“I think it’s too early to even talk about that idea, personally,” said Dr. Kunal Joshi of Overlake Medical Center.

Restaurants are on the front lines of mask rules.

Bob Donegan of Ivar’s said he trusts the health experts, as do most of his customers.

Last week at all their locations, Ivar’s served 51,000 people.

“Fewer than 12 people complained about having to wear a mask, so at least for our customers, it hasn’t been a big issue,” Donegan said.

Employers are also watching mask rules closely.

“We’re looking for certainty and predictability. This is a moment of time where we need to know where are we at, and have we rounded that corner,” said Kristofer Johnson from the Association of Washington Business.