Washington and Oregon have announced that they will soon be lifting the mask requirements in healthcare settings, according to state health officials on Friday. This marks the end of the last major masking requirements put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Both states will end their mandates on April 3, which means that healthcare workers, patients, and visitors will no longer be required to wear masks in facilities such as hospitals, urgent care centers, and dental and doctors’ offices. Additionally, Washington’s mask requirements in correctional facilities will also end on April 3.
State epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger explained in a news release from the Oregon Health Authority that the decision was made as recent data has shown decreases in the circulation of COVID-19, RSV, and the flu – the three respiratory viruses that led to a surge in hospital visits last fall.
Similarly, the Washington Department of Health stated that disease rates and hospitalizations have continued to decline since the end of last year.
However, officials emphasized that masks have been and will continue to be important tools to keep people healthy and safe, along with vaccinations. “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,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health.
Healthcare facilities and local public health agencies will have a month to prepare for the change and adjust their safety policies accordingly. Some healthcare settings may choose to continue requiring masks even after the statewide requirements are lifted.
The decision to lift mask requirements in healthcare settings comes as vaccination efforts across the US continue to ramp up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 70 million people in the US have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of March 4, 2021.
Despite this progress, health officials are still urging caution and continued adherence to safety measures such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing. This is especially important as new variants of the virus continue to emerge and cases rise in some areas.
The decision by Washington and Oregon to lift mask requirements in healthcare settings is a significant step towards returning to pre-pandemic norms, but it will be important to continue to monitor the situation and adjust safety measures as needed.