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Washington state lifting mask mandate for fully vaccinated people

People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer need to wear a mask in most indoor and outdoor settings, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state has lifted its mask mandate for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but businesses can still require customers to wear masks if they choose.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday the state is adopting the updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks unless they're in crowded indoor settings like schools, buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters. 

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after the one shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Inslee said he hopes easing the state's mask guidance will encourage people to get vaccinated. 

"This is a heck of a benefit for people who have been annoyed by this mask," said Inslee. "This is a ticket to freedom, that shot is a ticket to freedom from masks, and we hope people will avail themselves to it." 

The state will update its guidance documents, working with the Department of Health and Labor & Industries, to reflect the changes as soon as possible, Inslee said. 

Despite the changes, businesses can still legally require customers to wear masks if they choose and they can also inquire about a customer's vaccination status. 

Officials with the Department of Health said Thursday that fully vaccinated people should take a photo of their COVID-19 vaccination card and store it on their phone, or keep the card with them, to be able to show it at businesses if necessary. 

People can also access their COVID-19 vaccination status online through electronic health records. 

"Our hope is that it will increase people's interests in fighting COVID," said Inslee regarding the new mask guidance, "because it will give people an additional incentive to getting vaccinated."

The Washington Hospitality Association (WHA) said it would have guidance for businesses coming out in the near future. The WHA currently recommends unvaccinated employees keep wearing masks and advised operators that guest mask requirements are each businesses' decision. 

The new mask guidance comes just as the governor announced all counties in Washington state will be in Phase 3 starting Tuesday, and the state is on track to fully reopen by June 30. 

Inslee said a decline in COVID-19 activity has put Washington in a position to reopen, and to reduce mask wearing across the state for fully vaccinated people.