Washington is reopened, but some masking guidelines remain

Today is the day that Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the state is reopening, although that does not mean some COVID-19 related rules are not still in place.

Gov. Inslee released a statement on Tuesday for individuals and businesses preparing to return to normal capacity and operations.

“Washington has come a long way since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country was found in our state January 2020, and that is in no small part due to Washingtonians’ dedication and resilience in protecting themselves and their communities throughout the pandemic.

“Because folks listened to science and stayed home to stay healthy, wore masks and got vaccinated, we can now safely fully re-open our state’s economy and cultural centers after 15 long months. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m proud of how Washingtonians came together, persevered and sacrificed to fight this virus, and now we’re finally in a place that is safe enough to end this chapter.

“Even though Wednesday marks a new stage in our continued efforts to defeat this pandemic, we still have work to do. Continued success depends on everyone getting vaccinated and encouraging any loved one who has not yet received this lifesaving vaccine to do so, and quickly.

“Let’s keep it up, Washington – get vaccinated and stay safe.”

Despite reopening, the Secretary of Health’s mask order will remain in place even after today, which means that people who are not fully vaccinated need to continue to wear a face mask in public indoor settings even when things start to go back to normal as the state reaches a reopening milestone.

All people, regardless of vaccination status, are still required to wear masks in certain places, such as schools and health care settings. In most other settings, people who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear a mask.

Businesses and local authorities can set their own more protective mask requirements, even though some state restrictions are being lifted. That’s why the DOH message around masking is “Respect the rules of the room you’re in,” since those rules may change depending on where you are. Guidance for employers is available on the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries website.

“Even though the economic reopening represents a return to a more normal life for people who are vaccinated, masks will still be part of daily life for many,” says Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “Masks will still need to be in your car, your pocket, your backpack – they’ll still be a part of your life as we start to transition into this new phase of recovery.”

The Secretary of Health’s mask order has been amended to say that no one is required to wear a mask outdoors. People who are unvaccinated are encouraged to wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings, such as at sporting events, fairs, parades, concerts, and similar settings where it’s harder to maintain physical distance. No one is required to wear a mask during outdoor sports practice or competition, while swimming or when engaged in water sports and recreation.

People who are not fully vaccinated must wear a mask during indoor sports practices and competitions, with some limited exceptions that will be designated by DOH.

The settings in which all people, including people who are fully vaccinated, are required to wear masks include:

  • child care facilities, camps, K-12 schools, and other youth settings where children are present or expected to be present;
  • health care settings, in accordance with CDC health care infection prevention and control recommendations;
  • correctional facilities in areas where incarcerated individuals are present or expected to be present;
  • homeless shelters in areas where individuals being served are present or expected to be present;
  • public transportation and transportation hubs, including airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations

Masking helps protect those who are unvaccinated, including children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated and others with auto-immune or other conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated. Parents should be reminded that there is real risk to children until vaccinations are available. Kids who aren’t vaccinated still need to wear masks, though children younger than two years old should never wear one due to a risk of suffocation.

“If you are a person who works with children, as a teacher or a caregiver or a pediatrician, another protection you can create for them is to get vaccinated yourself,” says Acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist, MD, MPH. “The evidence is clear: vaccination protects you and the people around you, including kids who can’t get vaccinated yet. So, get vaccinated to protect kids.”

“Immunity levels in your social circles determine how likely you are to be exposed to the virus, and we expect to continue seeing outbreaks in communities with lower vaccination rates,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health.  “You can help keep your community safe by getting your vaccine and talking to the people you know about getting theirs.”

Secretary of Health Umair Shah, MD, MPH, thanked Washingtonians for their dedication to personal and community safety, but emphasized that the work to defeat the COVID-19 virus is not done.

“Washington was one of the first in the country to begin the fight against COVID-19. Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of everyone in the state we have one of the most effective responses in the nation. I am so grateful for our partners in public health, health care, government, businesses and communities across the state, as well as the public,” Shah said. “Your tireless efforts have saved lives and made reopening possible. While this step forward is exciting, it does not mean the virus is gone or our work is over. Vaccination, testing and precautions like wearing masks if you are unvaccinated will be needed more than ever as businesses try to resume normal operations. If you have been waiting to get vaccinated, do it now in order to safely enjoy reopening and protect your loved ones and people around you.”

Commerce Director Lisa Brown praised the resilience of Washington’s business community and emphasized the tie between economic recovery and continued increase of vaccination rates.

“We know our businesses are deeply dedicated to reopening safely and ensuring the health of their employees and customers. And Commerce remains committed to a strong economic recovery across all our communities – particularly those that were hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic,” Brown said. “But our economic recovery remains tied to our success fighting COVID-19. We hope this milestone inspires anyone who can get their vaccine but hasn’t done so yet to take that important step and help us become more resilient now and into the future.”

Indoor and outdoor guidance effective June 30

Effective 12:01 AM on June 30, all industry sectors previously covered by guidance in the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery or the Safe Start Reopening Plan may return to usual capacity and operations, with limited exceptions for large indoor events (any event with more than 10,000 simultaneous participants in an indoor, enclosed space.)

Reopening guidance:

  • Vaccine verification/negative testing: Recommended but not required for large indoor and outdoor events
  • Capacity limitations: No restrictions in restaurants, bars, stores, businesses, theaters etc. (except large indoor events)
  • Physical distancing: No requirements
  • Facial coverings: Not required for vaccinated individuals, unless required by individual business
  • Travelers: Follow CDC recommendations

*Some exceptions will include schools and childcare centers that will continue to have some facial coverings and physical distancing requirements.

Requirements for places of employment issued by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries have been updated here. This resource continues to detail options for fully vaccinated workers to go without a mask, methods for verification of worker vaccination status, choices workers have to continue to mask up and other updated guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the job and help employers meet their obligations to provide a safe and healthy workplace.

Background: Inslee announces statewide reopening date of June 30 and short-term statewide move to Phase 3

On Wednesday, June 30 and Thursday, July 1, the governor will participate in three community-led celebrations to acknowledge and celebrate end to current COVID restrictions. Inslee will travel to Tacoma, Spokane and Seattle to celebrate with community and business leaders, elected officials and Washington heroes who helped us through the COVID pandemic.