As of Monday, face masks are no longer required in medical and dental facilities in Washington and Oregon.
Kaiser Permanente, Legacy Health, PeaceHealth and the Vancouver Clinic said they will adhere to the changed recommendation, which was announced by the Washington Department of Health and Oregon Health Authority last month. But they will continue to require masks be worn in high-risk areas, such as hospitals and surgery centers.
Some other facilities with a high number of immunocompromised patients will also continue to require masks, such as those for oncology, infusion and dialysis.
Despite the change, the providers still highly encourage masks be worn by caregivers, patients and visitors. The policies, providers said, are based on guidance from local infectious disease experts but will be evaluated going forward should virus rates increase.
“Our infectious disease and infection prevention experts will continue to monitor local transmission rates in the community and adapt our masking requirements as needed to provide a safe care environment,” said Michael G. Foley, Kaiser Permanente’s director of integrated communications.
Discussions leading to change
Following announcements last month of the policy change, providers and health experts in Clark County worked to determine whether they’d follow the state’s suggestion — which encouraged organizations to make the decision for their own facilities regarding masking.
“Though requirements are going away, recommendations are still in place,” Dr. Steven Krager, deputy health officer at Clark County Public Health, said last month, adding that local COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths have been steadily declining. “If that trend continues, it makes sense that these types of requirements will go away.”
In the last week, the COVID-19 case rate — the number of new cases per 100,000 population — in Clark County decreased 2.8 percentage points, an encouraging sign for providers and health authorities. Hospitalizations per 100,000 also remained unchanged compared with the county’s March 31 report.
In addition to recommending masks for patients and visitors, local health care providers will continue to provide free masks at most facility entrances and upon request.
“We will offer masks at each entryway mindful we have patients with respiratory symptoms,” said Kelly Love, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Clinic. “But masks are not required.”