Clark County officials pivoted accordingly following Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement Monday that lifting of the statewide mask mandate will be pushed up to March 12.
Positive cases and hospitalizations as a result of COVID-19 have decreased in Clark County at a rate similar to that of the state as a whole, opening the doors to an earlier-than-expected end to the mandate.
“Based on what we’re seeing, I think that’s a reasonable call,” said Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick about lifting the statewide mask mandate this month. “Moving forward, I think we’ll be looking at hopefully new ways of managing this.”
Melnick stressed the efficacy of masks, and said that people should still wear them if they are at high risk for severe illness or if it makes them more comfortable after the mandate is lifted.
Weekly cases in Clark County schools have dwindled to a fraction of totals at the omicron wave’s peak in January. District officials say they will continue to follow guidance from all state and county health officials until March 14 — the first school day after the mandate is lifted.
Masks will be optional for both students and staff in school buildings and on buses going forward.
Bill Beville, the president of the Evergreen Education Association, the union representing a majority of teachers in Evergreen Public Schools, said moving the date from March 21 came as a bit of surprise.
“It caught us a little bit, we had already written agreements and talked about the 21st, so this seemed a bit out of nowhere,” Beville said. “There’s still some things we’re unsure about, but we’ll continue to follow the state health guidelines, as I’m sure they’re updating them any day now.”
Among those uncertainties was whether students will need to be masked on school buses. Inslee’s guidance said that masks still need to be worn while using public transit.
Spokespersons from both Evergreen and Vancouver public schools said on Monday they were informed that masks wouldn’t be required for students riding school buses.
Beville said the union is also still working to provide the same amount of available personal protective equipment for all its members in schools, as masks will remain optional following March 12.
District spokespersons said they have not yet received updated guidance from state health officials regarding the continuance of proper distancing protocols, contact tracing and regular testing protocols but will inform students and families once that information is available.