5 Things Washington: Mask mandates, Health bills, Pregnancy deaths


Eli Kirshbaum


This month’s edition includes coverage of health bills that have passed through their first chamber in the legislature, and information about Washington’s lifting of the mask mandate for healthcare settings next month.

As always, thanks for reading!


Shane Ersland
State of Reform

1. Mask mandate ending next month

Washington’s mask mandate for healthcare settings will expire on April 3rd. The announcement was made following steady declines in the state’s new COVID-19 case rates over the past several months. Washington’s current mask order requires universal masking in healthcare, long-term care, and adult correctional facilities for people age 5 or older.

While it will no longer be a requirement, the Department of Health said masking is still recommended for patients, healthcare providers, and healthcare facility visitors. “Masks have been–and will continue to be–an important tool, along with vaccinations, to keep people healthy and safe,” Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said.


2. Bills to supplement nurse workforce move closer to becoming law

The deadline for bills to pass out of their original chamber passed last week, meaning most bills that didn’t receive a floor vote will no longer be considered this session. However, several health-related bills remain alive and await votes in the opposite chamber. This includes legislation to supplement the state’s nurse workforce.

SB 5582 would reduce barriers and expand educational opportunities to increase the state’s nurse workforce. SB 5499 would enter Washington into the Nurse Licensure Compact, which expedites licensure for RNs and LPNs who are already licensed in another state. SB 5236 would improve nurse and healthcare worker safety and patient care by establishing minimum staffing standards in hospitals.


3. Behavioral health conditions primary cause of pregnancy-related deaths

Behavioral health conditions, including suicides and overdoses, are the leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths in the state. A new DOH report found that the leading underlying causes of pregnancy-related deaths were behavioral health conditions (32%), predominantly by suicide and overdose. Other common causes were hemorrhage (12%) and infection (9%).

The report found that 224 pregnant women died from 2014-2020, and classified 97 as pregnancy-related. It stated that 80% of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable, meaning that there was at least some chance of the death being averted if a clinical or social factor that contributed to the death had been different.


4. UW to study impact of long COVID in Hispanics

Dr. Leo Morales will lead a University of Washington study that will research the impact long COVID has had on Hispanics in the state. Information regarding the impact long COVID has had on Hispanics in the state is limited, but Morales said COVID has had a much bigger impact on them than any other group.

“The rates of infection have been higher,” he said. “And more Latinx and Hispanics have died from COVID on an age-adjusted basis than other groups.” Researchers expect to see results from the study by early summer. They will be shared with community members and lawmakers.


5. New crisis response facility to serve north King County

new facility in Kirkland’s Totem Lake neighborhood will provide walk-in mental health urgent care, continued stabilization services for behavioral health or substance use crises, and other services for the residents in Kirkland, Bothell, Kenmore, Lake Forest Park, and Shoreline. The center will be the first of its kind in King County.

The center will be operated by Connections Health Solutions and will be open 24/7, with no appointment required. It is expected to open in 2024. “Programs like this that allow for first responders referrals decrease the use of jails and emergency rooms, which are not well-equipped to address these needs,” Gov. Jay Inslee said at a press conference to celebrate the facility.