2:06 PM: Happening now in Olympia –
click into the livestream here or above – Governor Jay Inslee is announcing “the latest COVID-19 trends and plans for transitioning to the next phase of Washington state’s COVID-19 response.” He’s being joined by state school superintendent Chris Reykdal and state health secretary Dr. Umair Shah. We’ll update as it goes.
He opened by hailing a “significant decline” in COVID cases though he said the case and hospitalization rates are still “high” and still need to be “knocked down.” He says modeling projects that the “knocking down” to a safe point is likely to happen by March 21st. “Considering these projections,” he said, the state mask mandate for schools and public indoor spaces will be removed on that date. There will be exceptions, he noted, such as health-care facilities and transit (the latter, he said, is federally required). He thanks people statewide for what they’ve done on this “long, long journey” but cautions it would not be safe to “do this today” – “We need to finish this job and do what’s scientifically safe.”
2:18 PM: He says people will have the right to continue choosing to wear masks if they want to “and we will protect that right.” Next, Dr. Shah speaks, saying he is “hopeful for where this pandemic is going,” nationwide as well as in our state. He reiterates the “strong protection” provided by vaccines. He adds, “Living with COVID means we don’t know how long it’s going to be around.” He also points out that the statewide mandate end will not rule out local health jurisdictions, businesses, etc. keeping their. own rules in place. Overall, this is an “incredibly important milestone,” he concludes.
2:25 PM: Now state superintendent Reykdal is speaking. He echoes what the previous speakers have said, thanking everyone for what they’ve done to stay safe. Then back to the governor, who says he knows some may think the mandate should end sooner – “We lost a thousand people in January to this disease, and when we make decisions, we should have a recognition of how dangerous and deadly this is … and we’re not yet where we need to be as a state to be safe.”
2:30 PM: On to reporter Q&A. Will the emergency order be lifted March 21 too? No, says the governor – for one, it needs to stay in place for the state to be eligible for federal funds, plus it confers protections of various kinds, such as allowing testing in schools. “There’s no dedicated end date to the emergency order.” … In response to another question, Dr. Shah reiterates, “March 21st is such an important milestone, but it does not mean the pandemic ends then.”
2:56 PM: The Q&A continues. One question was about the declining case rate; what’s on the state dashboard is most current, was the reply, showing a peak of 1,740 cases per 100,000 people over 7 days in mid-January, and then by early February that was down to 645 cases per 100,000 people over 7 days.
3:10 PM: The briefing has concluded. The video window above should show the recording soon. When the governor’s office issues a written version of today’s announcements, we’ll link it here. We also have a followup out for clarification with Seattle Public Schools regarding what the end of the statewide mandate would mean in local schools.
3:56 PM: Here’s what the governor’s office has since posted. Key point:
Businesses and local governments can still choose to implement vaccination or face mask requirements for workers or customers, and school districts can still choose to have students and teachers wear masks. Federal law still requires face masks in certain settings such as public transportation and school buses.
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