In the shortest COVID briefing of the pandemic — just 15 minutes — Snohomish County officials celebrated the good news as we move to end mandatory masking and concentrate on what County Executive Dave Somers called our “focus toward recovery.” A sign of that – the county will go to once-a-month COVID briefings starting in April, on the first Tuesday of each month.
There are “continued steady decreases in cases, hospitalization, long term care and school cases… all are coming down in parallel,” echoed the County’s Chief Health Officer, Dr. Chris Spitters. It shows in the case rate for the week ending March 5, now at 145 cases per 100,000 people – down 90% since early January. Just eight weeks ago, 230 county residents were hospitalized with COVID — now only 30 are in hospital beds — with only two of those on respirators.
Most mandatory masking ends statewide at midnight March 12. But masks will still be required in the following places-:
- Health care offices
- Outpatient treatment
- Dental offices
- Long-term care facilities
- Homeless shelters
- Public transit and stations – federal requirement
- Feds will review that restriction on March 18
- Masks will not be required on school or child care buses
- Those coming out of a five-day isolation for COVID should wear masks in public or at work for 6-10 days during their recovery
- For details, go to snohd.org/covid
Businesses can now choose their own standards and set or end mask requirements at each store, restaurant or indoor location. Business tips for COVID recommendations are available here.
The county continues its recommendation that schoolchildren should still wear masks, but the ultimate decision is up to each school board. Somers reminded the briefing that thousands of children under 5 still cannot be vaccinated and that older children, teens and adults with underlying health conditions will still wear masks. Both he and Spitters said they have family members with health issues so they will continue to mask up around them.
Both also said people should respect the right of those who choose to continue wearing masks. “It’s not like masks are a political statement; people are just trying to keep their loved ones healthy and safe,” added Somers.
Mindful of the 6 million COVID deaths worldwide, Spitters said variants are still emerging and that we must remain “vigilant and flexible” for the future if we need to mask up again.
The money to run them expires March 30. Right now, testing and vaccine sites are seeing only about 100 people a day. The county has said that the private health care system will take up that role.
— By Bob Throndsen