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COVID-19 trends gives leaders confidence for next phase of pandemic response

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Gov. Jay Inslee announced last Thursday that most indoor masking requirements will lift March 21 thanks to dropping hospitalization rates, improving vaccination rates, and broad access to masks and tests.

"The virus has changed significantly over the past two years, and so has our ability to fight it. While caution is still needed, we are entering a new phase of the pandemic," Inslee said. "Vaccination remains our most essential protection against severe illness and death from COVID-19. It's also crucial to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed again. If you've been procrastinating, now is the time to get the shot."

Inslee was joined in the announcement by Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, Department of Health Secretary Umair Shah, and Department of Health Deputy Secretary Lacy Fehrenbach.

"Our students, educators and school employees, and families have been incredibly resilient as we've navigated the impacts of the pandemic," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. "Our efforts over the past two years have led us to this moment. Nearly all of our school employees are vaccinated, the number of vaccinated students increases each day, and we have one of the most robust COVID-19 school testing programs in the country. Moving away from a statewide mask mandate to masks being encouraged is a safe next step as we move from pandemic to endemic."

Beginning March 21, face masks will no longer be required in most settings, including K-12 schools and childcare facilities. Masks will still be required in health care settings such as hospitals, outpatient and dental offices, long term care settings, and correctional facilities. In addition, beginning March 1, vaccine verification for large events will no longer be required.

Businesses and local governments can still choose to implement vaccination or face mask requirements for workers or customers, and school districts can still choose to have students and teachers wear masks. Federal law still requires face masks in certain settings such as public transportation and school buses.

Climate Action Takes

Center Stage in Inslee

Town Hall with Gore

Gov. Jay Inslee joined with former Vice President Al Gore and White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy for a panel discussion and Q & A about efforts to combat climate change and transition equitably to a low-carbon, clean energy economy. The action took place last Wednesday.

In Washington state, the 2021 heat wave was the deadliest on record, leading to more than 100 deaths. Sea levels are rising in coastal towns such as Friday Harbor and forcing communities such as the Quinault Indian Nation to relocate to higher ground. Droughts and heat waves are hurting Washington's agricultural growers and their workers.

As governor, Inslee has supported and passed nation-leading climate initiatives including several bills in 2019 to advance Washington state's transition to 100% clean energy, clean buildings, and cleaner transportation. In 2021, the Legislature passed several landmark measures to a cap and invest program to reduce climate pollution across the economy, a clean fuels standard, and laws to reduce single-use plastics and put environmental justice at the forefront of Washington's strategic plans.

Inslee has proposed several bills to advance climate action as part of his 2022 climate package, including measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and to ensure that Washington can site and build clean energy and technology here at home.

"We've got to have hope to keep this movement alive. Action is the fuel against despair. We have made good progress in our state, but it is not enough, and we must do more. Now is the time to act boldly and quickly -- to protect the planet and to grow our economy with clean energy jobs," Inslee said.

"The climate crisis is already impacting lives in the state of Washington and indeed we are seeing worsening impacts in communities around the world. We have incredible climate leaders in government working to deploy these climate solutions, in Washington state today and in Washington DC. But they need you to use your voices, and your choices, and your actions to demand the kinds of solutions that are available here," said former Vice President Al Gore.

"People are afraid now, they see the world has changed, they want action. Every piece of legislation and every piece of investment in the bipartisan infrastructure law that President Biden got over the finish line, is going to make people's lives better," said White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy.

King County to End

Vaccine Requirements

at Restaurants, Bars, Gyms

Restaurants, bars, theaters and gyms in King County will no longer be required to check the vaccination status of their patrons beginning March 1, officials announced last Wednesday. Businesses will be free to impose their own vaccination requirements if they choose, but the countywide requirement will disappear.

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