OLYMPIA, Wash. - Schoolchildren in California, Oregon and Washington will no longer be required to wear masks as part of new indoor mask policies the Democratic governors of all three states announced jointly on Monday.
"With declining case rates and hospitalizations across the West, California, Oregon and Washington are moving together to update their masking guidance," the governors said in a statement.
The new guidance will make face coverings a recommendation rather than a requirement at most indoor places in California starting Tuesday and at schools on March 12, regardless of vaccination status. In Washington and Oregon, all the requirements will lift on March 12.
Federal mask requirements will still apply in high-risk indoor settings such as public transportation, airports and taxis. Rules for other high-risk indoor settings could also vary by state.
State officials said Washington's 7-day average for cases, hospitalizations and deaths were at similar levels to the peak of the Delta variant surge.
Mike Faulk, a spokesman for Inslee, said in an email Friday that the office has not yet had a chance to review the new guidance, and that once that has happened "there will be a broader discussion with the governor’s office and the Department of Health about its implications for our state."
Beginning March 21, masks will no longer be required in most places in Washington state including restaurants, bars, schools, childcare facilities, gyms, houses of worship and grocery stores, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.
Masks will still be required in health care settings such as hospitals, outpatient and dental offices, long-term care settings and correctional facilities.
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.
Washington's outdoor mask mandate for large groups expired on Feb. 18. Inslee amended the date for ending the requirement of proof of vaccination for large events on March 1.
CDC: Many healthy Americans can take a break from masks
Most Americans live in places where healthy people, including students in schools, can safely take a break from wearing masks under new U.S. guidelines released Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined the new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip, with less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals.
The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.
The agency is still advising that people, including schoolchildren, wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high. That’s the situation in about 37% of U.S. counties, where about 28% of Americans reside.
The new recommendations do not change the requirement to wear masks on public transportation and indoors in airports, train stations and bus stations. The CDC guidelines for other indoor spaces aren’t binding, meaning cities and institutions even in areas of low risk may set their own rules. And the agency says people with COVID-19 symptoms or who test positive shouldn’t stop wearing masks.
But with protection from immunity rising — both from vaccination and infection — the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower, the CDC said.
"Anybody is certainly welcome to wear a mask at any time if they feel safer wearing a mask," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a news briefing. "We want to make sure our hospitals are OK and people are not coming in with severe disease. ... Anyone can go to the CDC website, find out the volume of disease in their community and make that decision."
Since July, CDC’s transmission-prevention guidance to communities has focused on two measures — the rate of new COVID-19 cases and the percentage of positive test results over the previous week.
Based on those measures, agency officials advised people to wear masks indoors in counties where spread of the virus was deemed substantial or high. This week, more than 3,000 of the nation’s more than 3,200 counties — greater than 95% — were listed as having substantial or high transmission.
That guidance has increasingly been ignored, however, with states, cities, counties and school districts across the U.S. announcing plans to drop mask mandates amid declining COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.