OLYMPIA – Governor Jay Inslee has pushed the timeline up to lift Washington’s COVID-19 mask requirements for schools and businesses until March 12, after federal officials last week released public health guidelines on face clothing.
The governor announced earlier this month that the nationwide mandates – which include grocery stores, childcare facilities, gyms, bars and other indoor establishments – would be lifted on March 21.
Monday’s announcement was made in a joint news release with the governors of Oregon and California, who also adjusted their restrictions. Inslee is scheduled to hold a press conference at. 13 Monday to discuss the masking restrictions.
The changes come after officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday released updated guidance on the new coronavirus.
Inslee’s office said Friday that there were no plans to change the masking orders at the time, but that officials would review the CDC guidelines, and “there will be a broader discussion” with the governor’s office and state health officials.
The new federal guidelines, released Friday, move away from looking at the number of cases of COVID-19 to a broader view of the risk from the virus to a community. The previous guidelines recommended masks for those in communities with a significant or high transmission of the virus – which was about 95% of U.S. counties.
The new system greatly changes the appearance of the CDC’s risk map and places more than 70% of the US population in counties where COVID-19 poses a low or medium threat to hospitals. These are the people who can stop wearing masks, according to the agency.
Of Washington’s 39 counties, nine are considered high-risk; 16 is medium risk; and 14 are low-risk, including King County, the state’s most populous state.