With dropping hospitalization rates, improving vaccination rates, and broad access to masks and tests, Gov. Jay Inslee today announced the state could soon move into a less restrictive phase of the COVID-19 response.
The lifting of statewide measures does not prohibit local governments from the ability to enact measures in response to COVID-19 activity in their communities.
Governor Inslee and leaders from the state Department of Health said the combination of dropping COVID-19 hospitalization rates and efficacy of vaccines in preventing severe illness and hospitalization are essential indicators that statewide requirements can begin to loosen.
Beginning March 21, face masks will no longer be required in most settings, including K-12 schools and childcare facilities.
Masks will still be required in health care settings such as hospitals, outpatient and dental offices, long-term care settings, and correctional facilities.
In addition, beginning March 1, vaccine verification for large events will no longer be required.
Businesses and local governments can still choose to implement vaccination or face mask requirements for workers or customers, and school districts can still choose to have students and teachers wear masks. Federal law still requires face masks in specific settings such as public transportation and school buses.
Guidance for K-12 schools will be updated
The week of March 7, DOH will issue updated guidance for K-12 schools to go into effect on March 21. The guidance will be released early to help schools prepare for this transition.
Schools will still be required to report COVID-19 cases and outbreaks and cooperate with public health authorities in responding to these consistent with procedures for other communicable diseases.
Students and staff with symptoms of COVID-19 will continue to be required to quarantine away from school buildings. Schools must also ensure access to testing for staff and students who have symptoms of or may have been exposed to COVID-19. If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they must remain at home and follow the CDC and DOH isolation protocol.
DOH will also shift existing requirements regarding distancing, ventilation, and sanitation, so they become recommendations.
Safe workplace protocols remain in place
COVID-19 remains a recognized workplace hazard. When masks are no longer required in the workplace, employers must continue taking steps to assess COVID-19 transmission risks to employees and minimize those risks. Risks vary depending on the workspace and conditions. Possible measures could include promoting vaccination, improving ventilation, offering face masks, encouraging social distancing or installing sneeze guards or barriers.
Employers are still required to notify workers of potential exposures when a co-worker has a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19. In worksites with 50 or more employees, report outbreaks of 10 or more confirmed cases to the state Department of Labor & Industries.
Employers must also allow workers to continue to wear masks if they choose. In 2021, the Legislature passed SSB 5254, which protects a worker’s right to wear a face covering and other protective devices during a public health emergency. The governor is amending an existing worker safety and protection emergency order, Proclamation 21–08, to reflect this new state law.
Proclamation 21–08 already prohibits employers from taking adverse action against a worker for taking COVID-related health actions, including getting vaccinated and taking time off to get vaccinated or seek treatment. It will now also protect workers from any adverse action for wearing a face-covering while we remain in a state of emergency.
[Read the Washington State’s Governors entire post on Medium here]