PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Jay Inslee announced outdoor mask requirements in the state would be lifted by Feb. 18.
Washington state’s current policy requires masks to be worn at gatherings of 500 or more people.
Inslee cited declining COVID hospitalizations as evidence the state has passed the worst of the omicron variant.
“We are entering a transition period,” Inslee said at the beginning of the press conference.
“Now, we have projections of a very steep decline leading to, we hope, extremely low numbers by the first week in March,” Inslee added later, showing data from the state’s hospital admissions.
He announced that the National Guard will no longer be at Washington hospitals, saying “that mission will be ending soon.”
Beginning Feb. 17, Washingtonians will also no longer need to have some surgeries postponed, Inslee said.
Oregon and California have both announced an end date for indoor mask mandates, but Washington has not yet decided on such a pivot. However, Inslee said Washingtonians could expect mitigation measures to be lifted in the “weeks to come, rather than months.”
“Today is not the day to lift all of the masking requirements,” Inslee said. “We are obviously having conversations and an intensive review of what day it will be.”
“It is no longer a matter of ‘if,’ it is a question of ‘when,'” he added.
An announcement on repealing Washington’s indoor mask mandate could come as early as next week, Inslee said, as his office waits for more data to increase confidence in the decision.
Inslee expressed optimism that the state could lift restrictions based on data indicating a decline in COVID cases.
“The day is coming, very soon, when we do not have a broad mask mandate for indoor, public space, or for our schools,” Inslee said. “And we’re going to do that by following the science to make the right decision.”
Earlier on Wednesday morning, about 20 to 30 students at Ridgefield High School in Washington walked out of class to protest mask mandates. They are just the latest in a series of protests against mandates in schools.
“We don’t make decisions based on social, internet culture, wars over masks,” Inslee said without referencing any specific pushback. “We did not require masks for symbolism. We required them because they work, and now we believe we’re in a place to transition to a different state.”
The press conference was livestreamed on KOIN.com and is featured in full in the video below.
Oregon Health Authority announced Monday the state will lift its indoor mask requirements no later than March 31. California announced plans to end its indoor masking requirement for vaccinated people next week, but masks will still be the rule for schoolchildren in the nation’s most populous state.