Physicians, hospital leaders: WA unwilling to end indoor mask mandate

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Gov. Jay Inslee plans to announce within the next week when Washington will lift its indoor mask mandate.

But doctors and hospital leaders at the Washington State Hospital Association’s latest meeting on Tuesday said they didn’t think the state was ready to take the step.

Washington’s outdoor mask mandate, which applies to large events with more than 500 people such as festivals and ball games, ends next Friday. But when it comes to indoor masking, Washington is one of three states — Hawaii and New Mexico are the other two — that don’t have a mandate end date in sight.

Washington Superintendent Calls for End of School Mask Mandate

“We still have over 100 out of 100,000 people who have COVID every day, so I think it’s too early at this point in this surge,” said Dr. Shaquita Bell, pediatrician at Seattle Children’s, during the WSHA briefing.

She said she’s fine with ending the mandate if the state plummets to that level — but as of Friday, Washington is at about 13 times that metric, just below 1,300 new cases per 100,000 population.

Inslee said during a news conference on Wednesday that he does not plan to lift the mandate immediately, but does so at a time when case, hospitalization and death rates have fallen enough to make it safe to do so.

Similarly, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced this week that its indoor mask mandate will be lifted by the end of March.

But Cassie Sauer, President and CEO of WSHA, disagreed with making such an announcement so far in advance.

“Making a plan for a month or two months just doesn’t seem wise,” Sauer said. “It also looks like that kind of decision can be made quickly. You don’t have to build infrastructure to remove masks from schools. You could just say, ‘We’ve seen a drop in cases – starting next week we won’t need masks.'”

dr Overlake Medical Center’s Kunal Joshi pointed out that we thought the pandemic was over last summer and again in the fall — only to be surprised by new variants and subsequent waves each time. He suggested proceeding prudently.

“We’re excited because we want our lives back — I get that,” Joshi said. “But I think we should consider what happened in June and what happened in September.”

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