OLYMPIA, Wash — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday that Washington state is lifting its indoor mask mandate on March 12 and not March 21.
The masking requirements will be lifted at 11:59 p.m. on March 11 and come as a result of the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released last week.
King County announced that it would also be ending its mask mandate at 11:59 p.m. on March 11.
“We’ve continued to monitor data from our state Department of Health (DOH), and have determined we are able to adjust the timing of our statewide mask requirement. While this represents another step forward for Washingtonians, we must still be mindful that many within our communities remain vulnerable. Many businesses and families will continue choosing to wear masks because we’ve learned how effective they are at keeping one another safe. As we transition to this next phase, we will continue to move forward together carefully and cautiously," Inslee said in a statement
The CDC updated its masking guidance on Friday, saying that only counties with high transmission levels should continue to wear masks inside most places.
According to the CDC’s map, all but nine counties in Washington fall into this category. Previously, the CDC had recommended masks in all communities regardless of transmission levels.
King County, the state's most populous, is currently classified as low transmission.
Health leaders from Washington, Oregon and California discussed the guidance over the weekend and determined the new date. California is lifting its mask mandate on March 1, while Oregon and Washington are both lifting theirs by March 12.
The indoor mask requirements for Washington schools will ease and become recommendations on March 12, but the DOH is expected to release further guidance for schools next week. King County said it would not be extending any mask mandates for schools once the state's requirements ease.
Inslee on Monday also gave three reasons for why he isn't yet ending the emergency order that has given him additional powers during the pandemic.
First, he said the order allows a mask mandate at hospitals. It also protects individuals' rights to use masks at work if they choose to. Finally, it allows the state to continue receiving federal funding.
The CDC’s guidance eased mask recommendations for more than 70% of Americans, but universal masking is still required in airports, on airplanes, buses and other forms of public transit.
Washington’s previous target date of March 21 was chosen since it was the date the state said COVID hospital admission rates would hit 5 per 100,000 residents.
As of Feb. 25, the statewide COVID hospitalization rate is about 13 admissions per 100,000 residents.
Officials have urged residents to be patient as some businesses may choose to keep mask requirements even after the mandate lifts.