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Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Dec. 5, 2023

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Washington to end health care masking mandates April 3

By , Columbian staff reporter

Face masks will no longer be required at Washington health care facilities starting April 3, the state announced Friday.

Masking mandates put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic across the state were lifted almost a year ago except for health care settings. The elimination of the Secretary of Health’s mask order will also affect long-term care and adult correctional facilities.

Friday’s announcement made by the Washington State Department of Health comes alongside a similar announcement in Oregon.

“Masks have been — and will continue to be — an important tool, along with vaccinations, to keep people healthy and safe,” said Dr. Umair A. Shah, secretary of health, in a press release. “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.”

Though the current state mask order will lift on April 3, local or tribal governments, facilities and providers may choose to continue to require masks, according to the release.

Under the Washington State Department of Health prevention and control guidance, masks will continue to be recommended for patients, health care providers and visitors in health care settings, according to the release.

Rates of COVID-19, RSV and the flu have been declining since the end of 2022.

Clark County Public Health has said its recommendations will remain the same, encouraging masks for patients and providers in health care settings, though the decision is ultimately up to each facility.

“Though requirements are going away, recommendations are still in place,” said Dr. Steven Krager, deputy health officer at Clark County Public Health, pointing to the general trend that COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are declining. “If that trend continues, it makes sense that these types of requirements will go away.”

While Clark County Public Health had been aware of discussions around the mask mandate, the agency did not know when it was going to actually lift, according to Krager.

At this point, many health facilities have just received the news and do not have official statements about what the lifting of the statewide health care mask mandate will mean for individual facilities.

Kaiser Permanente is continuously working to re-evaluate its masking guidelines to align with clinical standards to protect the health of patients and staff, a spokesperson wrote in an email to The Columbian. The organization will follow recommendations of physician leaders, according to the email.

“PeaceHealth is evaluating the announcements from Washington Department of Health and Oregon Health Authority regarding the end to masking requirements in health care settings. As always, the safety of our patients, caregivers and communities remains a top priority,” a PeaceHealth spokesperson told The Columbian via email.

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Columbian staff reporter