Healthcare facilities mask mandate to stay in place in Washington

OLYMPIA — While most of the emergency orders issued by Gov. Jay Inslee related to the COVID-19 pandemic end Oct. 31, the order mandating masks in healthcare facilities and in some jail and jail situations will not. Washington Health Minister Umair Shah said in a briefing on Thursday that conditions still do not support ending that mandate.

“We may just not be there yet,” Shah said.

Masks remain mandatory in all health facilities and in prisons when there is a medium to high risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Shah said the masking order for hospitals and prisons originated with the health minister and is therefore not subject to the governor’s end of orders.

Othello Community Hospital chief executive officer Connie Agenbroad said the hospital’s policies are currently being evaluated.

“We are in the review process and hope to have some clarification by next week,” Agenbroad wrote Thursday in response to a question from the Herald.

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Glenda Bishop, chief executive officer of Quincy Valley Medical Center, said the status quo will remain for Quincy.

“We have no plans to change our current requirements,” Bishop wrote Thursday. “We continue to mask and follow recommendations regarding testing employees when they have symptoms.”

While Shah said the end of the state of emergency is an incredibly important milestone for the state, he also said the coronavirus is still out there – about 7% of the hospital beds used in the state are occupied by coronavirus patients.

The number of coronavirus hospitalizations is declining, following the nationwide trend, Shah said. However, Health Department officials are urging state residents to continue to take precautions against the coronavirus.

Lacy Fehrenbach, Washington Department of Health’s chief of safety, prevention and health, said the end of the state of emergency marked the end of a phase in the state’s response to the pandemic.

“It really marks a transition,” she said.

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The ordinance requiring masks in hospitals and prisons will likely be changed in the future, she said, but not now.

“Continue to be smart with (individual) protection and prevention efforts,” Shah said. “Vaccination remains such an incredibly important part of that protection.”

Colder weather also means the start of flu season. The flu season has been very mild for the past two years, Shah said, and people have been spending more time at home and less time in crowded areas. People are getting back on the road, he said, which could contribute to an increase in flu cases. With the flu, like the coronavirus, vaccination is a good way to avoid the disease, he said.

Fehrenbach said coronavirus and influenza are both respiratory diseases, so people should think about taking similar precautions against the flu.

“A quality, well-fitting mask is one of the best tools you have,” she said.

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Proper hygiene — washing hands and covering coughs or sneezes — are also good precautions, she said.

People should consider getting the “bivalent” coronavirus booster, which protects against the current most common omicron variant of the coronavirus, Fehrenbach said.

Grant County Health District officials announced Wednesday that the bivalent booster shot will be available at free vaccine clinics scheduled at all NCW library locations in Grant County beginning next week.

The press conference also addressed monkeypox. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, the DOH’s chief science officer, said state officials are currently reporting 556 cases of monkeypox, most of them in King County. GCHS reported September 13 that a case of monkeypox had been confirmed in Grant County. No confirmed cases have been reported in Adams County.

Kwan-Gett said people who have an unexplained rash, even if it’s small, should cover the area and see a doctor.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at [email protected]


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