On March 12, the statewide mask mandate will be lifted for many, but not all, places in Washington state. Here’s what you need to know.
We’ve also released a new video from our director and co-health officers that answers some of your most common questions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJN4oRo3FIY
Local COVID-19 conditions and why it’s safe to lift the mandate
Since the beginning of the pandemic, one of the key goals has been to prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed. Thanks to vaccines, widely available tests, and new treatments that protect us from serious illness and death, our community is in a much better place to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks than before.
Along these lines, the CDC has launched COVID-19 Community Levels, a new tool for helping individuals and communities decide on prevention steps based on the latest data. Community levels are based on:
- New hospital admissions among people with COVID-19.
- Hospital beds being used by patients with COVID-19.
- The total number of new COVID-19 cases.
Currently, Whatcom County’s 7-day case rate is about 78 cases per 100,000, and our hospital admissions rate is 5.7 per 100,000. This puts our CDC community level at low, which is very encouraging.
Keep in mind that a “low” community level doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is over for good. There will still be outbreaks in places like schools that will require testing, masking, and isolation, so be prepared for that possibility. Like an umbrella or warm coat that we bring out in bad weather, masks will be a part of our lives when infections are on the rise.
The mask mandate still applies in health care facilities and certain other places.
On March 12, the mask mandate will continue in places such as hospitals, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, pharmacies, long-term care facilities, and public transit. Private businesses will also retain the right to require masks. Please be respectful in these settings and abide by their rules.
In particular, remember that there are people at high risk of severe illness, particularly in health care and medical facilities. Wearing a mask helps to protect them as well as yourself.
We understand the desire to “get back to normal.” But even though hospitals are no longer dealing with record high numbers of COVID-19 patients, they are working through high demand for surgeries and other care that was delayed by the Omicron surge. Help them and their dedicated staff by following their masking rules.
Masks will still be a public health tool in places such as K-12 schools
Keep in mind that masks, testing, and social distancing are tools that schools may still use when transmission is on the rise or during outbreaks.
When sick, children should stay home from school and get tested for COVID-19. If your student tests positive, they should still isolate for at least 5 days and follow your school district’s guidance. Schools are working hard to protect their staff and students; please respect their policies.
March 12 marks a substantial change for us all. Change can bring anxiety, especially for kids. There are many reasons why someone may choose to wear or not wear a mask. Throughout the pandemic, children have looked to the adults in their lives for guidance and this will continue as we move forward with COVID-19. During this change, remind them of the importance of showing mutual respect, concern, and kindness to one another.