Washington mask mandate: Students will no longer have to wear masks as of March 21

Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Thursday that the indoor mask mandate would be lifted on March 21. This impacts restaurants, bars, gyms, churches, and schools. 

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal addressed the media after Inslee made his address to discuss the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s next steps for mask requirements in schools, including OSPI’s obligation to enforce current laws and requirements. 

Reykdal said that students and staff can still wear masks if they choose, but this announcement takes the state mandate out of the equation. 

"I think it's important for folks to recognize that together, we got here. I also want to say a big thank you to all of our local health officials who have complicated jobs. Our school board members-- they're making decisions every day about our health and before any of us knew what COVID was. Those folks who are making everyday health decisions in flu season and mumps outbreaks and other significant public health risks, and much of this will go back to them," Reykdal said. 

The state said during the week of March 7, the Washington State Department of Health will issue updated guidance for K-12 schools that will go into effect March 21.

Schools will still be required to report COVID-19 cases and outbreaks, and cooperate with public health authorities in responding to these consistent with procedures for other communicable diseases, the governor's office said.

Both Reykdal’s and Inslee’s address comes after several states across the nation are getting rid of indoor mask mandates and masks in schools.

Superintendents of nearly 50 school districts across Eastern Washington signed a letter on Wednesday urging state leaders to end the mask mandate.

The superintendents called for two things in the letter: asking that the mask mandate be dropped and that responsibility for contact tracing be moved from school districts to the Department of Health.

The letter claims "the mask mandates have caused psychological and social damage for students, fatigue on school district staff and increasing outrage from parents. Additionally, with the COVID-19 vaccine now being available to everyone 5 years old and up, the superintendents argue the mask mandate has become moot."

"It is evident that the pandemic has taken an exceptional psychological and social toll on our entire communities. We are particularly concerned that the mental health of our students, their families, and our staff is such that relief from the restrictions we have strived to follow with fidelity, is needed," reads the letter. "As other states are now lifting many pandemic restrictions, the pressure has built that we do the same."

"Kids just want to be kids. They only have one chance. And they’re just all so anxious to be back together," said Gig Harbor mother of three, Erica Frank said. 

Before that letter was signed or the mandate lift was announced, the school board for the Kettle Falls School District and the Richland School District voted to lift the mask mandate. 

As Superintendent of Public Instruction, Reykdal issued letters to both districts, threatening to withhold funding for the schools unless they complied. 

However, a week earlier, Reykdal also said that he’d like to see the school mask mandate lifted by March 1. 

In an interview with FOX 13 earlier this month, Reykdal said, "As part of the transition from pandemic to endemic, I believe it is safe and timely to eliminate the statewide masking requirement for students and allow for a decision by local health officials." 

It's unclear if those schools will still be threatened with funds being withheld. 

"To our students: hang with this until the 21st. Please wear those face coverings. It is the law. It’s important that we keep that responsibility to each other that we maintain that expectation to look after one another," Reykdal said. 

Washington’s mask mandate has been in effect since Aug. 23, 2021.

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