Mask mandates continue to fall in several other states like New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and will also change in California and Oregon in the near future. But if you live in Seattle or King County, you will be left with a patchwork of different rules to follow for a few weeks until the statewide requirement for masks indoors will no longer be in effect.
In King County the process of change has already started as restaurants, bars, theaters and gyms will no longer be required to check the vaccination status of their patrons beginning March 1. Part of the reason is that cases and hospitalizations are declining. Also, 87.5 % of King County’s population ages 12 and older has been fully vaccinated. We have been trained to not leave home without our vaccination card or our mask.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the state will lift indoor mask mandates on March 12 for schools, child care facilities, grocery stores and many other indoor facilities, but many businesses will still have authority to require their employees and customers to mask up. Masking will still be required for health care facilities, dental offices, prisons, public transit and school buses.
But that raises the question: Is it too soon?
If you live in Seattle or King County, you won’t see much change initially, which raises the next issue: Will it be too confusing to keep track of, and will we be putting masks back on by March 12?
A cynic might also ask the question after training most of us to get shots and boosters and to wear masks: Did Inslee just give in to political pressure as more Republican leaders such as Senate Minority Leader John Braun (R-Centralia) have challenged Inslee’s use of his emergency powers, and asked that Inslee immediately end masking requirements, saying if someone wants to wear a mask in public, it should be by choice, not mandate.
However, that is part of the problem. Masks have become a political divider to the public and are seen as reflections of your political party — and should not be.
In a prudent show of caution, which is needed at this time, King County won’t be lifting its mask mandate for indoor settings until it monitors coronavirus-related metrics and will reassess the mandate in the coming weeks. Also, cities and counties will have the authority to determine their rules, as will school districts. The lack of consistency with differing rules means we could be putting our masks back on by March 12.
I have appreciated Inslee following science rather than politics, unlike the former president. It would have been easy to give in to the political dynamics, but we expect more from the governor. Inslee has been under pressure from school superintendents, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal recently called to end the mask requirement while maintaining safety protocols including availability of rapid tests. Reykdal also noted that this move by Inslee does not signal the end to the global virus outbreak, as it only provides some flexibility while many teachers and support staff are more weary of masks coming off at Washington schools.
The head of the teachers union expressed concern that lifting the mask mandate at a time of staff shortages could interrupt learning, especially in low-income areas. School boards can still choose to require students and teachers to wear masks after the mandate ends, and the state Department of Health will update its guidelines for schools the week of March 7 to help districts prepare for the March 12 transition.
And what happens if the next variant isn’t reacting the same way, and is more difficult to manage, and we end up back in our masks? And what about the 25% of the population who will never get a vaccine? I think there are too many variables, not to mention the different rules in each city, to cloud the public’s thinking with changes in wearing masks now.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.