At long last, the requirement to wear face coverings has been rescinded for most indoor places in our state. Until now and since August 2021, masks were required in all indoor places unless one or more exceptions was met, such as while eating or drinking, when only with the members of one’s household, etc. Now, masks are optional indoors and only mandatory in certain kinds of facilities or settings where persons may be more vulnerable than the general public (e.g., health care setting, etc.). This blog looks at the new mask orders and the impact for local governments.
The lifting of the mask mandates follows the lifting of related mandates. Previously, the statewide requirement that face coverings be worn at outdoor events and gatherings attended by 500 or more people was rescinded as of February 18, 2022. The requirement that proof of vaccination or proof of a negative coronavirus test be presented as a condition of attending a large indoor or outdoor event was rescinded on March 1, 2022 (see Proclamation 21-16.2).
As part of the “Washington Ready” plan, Proclamation 20-25.19, enacted March 11, 2022, contains a summary of the course of the COVID-19 pandemic so far, including the face covering requirements that have been enacted and revised over time. The proclamation states:
[G]iven the continued reduction in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in February and early March of 2022, it is now appropriate to also rescind the requirement that face coverings be worn in most places.
Masks and face coverings are still required in health care settings, long term care facilities, and jails and correctional centers.
[U]nless extended or amended, or upon termination of this amendatory proclamation, the provisions of Proclamation 20-25, et seq., will continue to be in effect until the state of emergency, issued on February 29, 2020, pursuant to Proclamation 20-05, is rescinded.
In addition, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries has updated resources regarding face masks in the workplace. Similarly, the Department of Health also updated its guidance for schools, child care, youth activities, and day camps to correspond with the March 12 lifting of the indoor mask mandate.
Duty to Cooperate with Public Health
Although it lifts most statewide mask requirements, Proclamation 20-25.19 (at page 4) continues the same requirements as in previous proclamations for cooperation with local and state public health authorities:
Employers must notify their local health jurisdiction within 24 hours if they suspect COVID-19 is spreading in their workplace, or if they are aware of two or more employees who develop confirmed or suspected COVID-19 within a 14-day period.
Everyone is required to cooperate with public health authorities in the investigation of cases, suspected cases, outbreaks, and suspected outbreaks of COVID-19 and with the implementation of infection control measures pursuant to State Board of Health rule in WAC 246-101-425.
Local governments, employers, and businesses have authority to implement their own face mask requirements in their jurisdictions. Businesses may post “mask optional” signs and request visitors voluntarily comply. Local public health departments may issue mask guidance that is more restrictive than the new statewide order. Proclamation 20-25.19 (at page 4) states:
Nothing in this proclamation or in the Secretary of Health’s face covering order prevents any other individual or entity from imposing more restrictive face covering or additional restrictions or requirements in businesses or other locations within the scope of their legal authority.
Masks at Work
Although masks are now optional in most workplaces, public and private employers may adopt their own mask requirements. However, employers also may not take any adverse action against an employee for voluntarily wearing a face mask at work. See Proclamation 21-08.1
Federal requirements still require face coverings on public transportation including transit buses, trains, airplanes, and at airports. For the foreseeable future, we should expect to continue wearing masks while on the bus, light rail and other trains, and during air travel. Note: the current requirement is set to expire on April 18, although it has been extended repeatedly.
What happens next with mask requirements and other restrictions likely depends on where the numbers go as COVID-19 cases continue to be tracked. Governor Inslee’s new proclamation indicates that additional restrictions might again be required in the future (Proclamation 20-25.19 at page 6): “. . . if people fail to comply, I may be forced to reinstate additional prohibitions established in earlier proclamations.”
For the latest coronavirus guidance, please follow MRSC’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources for Local Governments.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.