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‘Not a simple answer’ for when Washington will end mask, vaccine mandates

Nov 18, 2021, 5:44 AM
Washington vaccine mask mandates, wa verify...
Proof of COVID vaccination is required to dine in at a restaurant in King County. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

When will mandates for masks and COVID-19 vaccinations finally be lifted in Washington? Officials with the state Department of Health provided some insight into that question Wednesday.

Gov. Inslee: ‘No plans currently’ to lift Washington’s mask mandate

Washington’s latest indoor mask mandate has been in effect since late August, while an outdoor mask mandate for large events was implemented in the following month. A vaccine mandate for state workers also took effect in October.

That was after the state fully reopened on June 30, leading to frustration among many regarding the back-and-forth nature of the state’s COVID restrictions.

That’s also a sentiment many at the DOH understand and acknowledge.

“I know that people want that hope and are tired of wearing masks — we recognize that,” Deputy Secretary of Health Lacy Fehrenbach said on Wednesday. “I do want to say, it’s not forever.”

An exact timeline for lifting the state’s current restrictions remains unclear at the moment, given the “extraordinarily complex” factors that would figure into such a decision. That includes looking at rates of COVID cases, deaths, hospitalizations, and vaccinations, as well as the presence of so-called “variants of concern,” such as the highly-infectious delta variant that swept across the state this fall.

Find a location to get vaccinated here

That has the DOH in constant conversations with Gov. Inslee’s office, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local health leaders at the city and county level “about how we navigate to a different place in the pandemic.”

“I don’t know that it will be a single metric — it’s a combination of things,” Fehrenbach described. “We understand the public wants this information. We understand people want a path forward, and it’s not a simple answer.”

Washington state’s seven-day case rate remains at roughly 158 per 100,000 residents. That’s well below the 300-plus daily cases the state was seeing at the peak of its fall surge, but still more than the 137 daily cases seen during spring’s surge. Over 71% of Washington’s population ages 12 and up has been fully vaccinated.

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‘Not a simple answer’ for when Washington will end mask, vaccine mandates