Mask mandates in healthcare settings that were put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic will end in Washington and Oregon on April 3rd.
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State agencies in both states announced the end of the masking requirements on Friday following decreasing COVID-19 case rates in both states over the past year.
Washington’s seven-day rate of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people was at 56 from Feb. 14th-20th. The rate was at 1,826 new cases per 100,000 people from Jan. 4th-10th, 2022.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, a health officer and epidemiologist at the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), said the lifting of the state’s healthcare mask requirement stems from data showing decreases in the circulation of the respiratory pathogens, including COVID-19, that triggered a surge in visits to hospital emergency departments and intensive care units last fall. On Feb. 26th, Oregon had 1,002 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19. The state had 11,416 confirmed and presumptive cases on May 15th, 2022.
Washington’s mask order currently requires universal masking in healthcare, long-term care, and adult correctional facilities for people age 5 and older. Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah signed the order on Oct. 27th, 2022.
Oregon’s Secretary of State rule currently requires workers in hospitals, mobile clinics, ambulances, outpatient facilities, dental offices, urgent care centers, counseling offices, school-based health centers, and complementary and alternative medicine locations to wear masks. The requirement has been in effect since August 2021.
An executive order that gave Oregon hospitals needed flexibility to respond to a surge in respiratory infections, including COVID-19, will expire on March 6th.
While the mask mandates will be ending, health officials in both states reinforced the need for residents to remain vigilant in taking precautions against COVID-19.
The Washington State Department of Health’s infection prevention and control guidance continues to recommend masks for patients, healthcare providers, and healthcare facility visitors. The state’s worker protection requirements that authorize employees and contractors to use masks or other personal protective equipment on the job without employer retaliation remain in effect.
“Masks have been–and will continue to be–an important tool, along with vaccinations, to keep people healthy and safe,” Shah said. “We are thankful for our health and long-term care providers, staff members, patients, and all Washingtonians for following the important public health measures put in place during the pandemic to protect one another.”
OHA said people at higher risk for severe disease, or who live with someone at higher risk, should still consider wearing masks in healthcare settings to better protect themselves and those most vulnerable around them. Some healthcare settings may continue to require masks even after the requirement is lifted, it said.