Still required in health care facilities, transit
Masks have come off in shops and schools around the state, a welcome symbol of the decreased risk from COVID and a long-awaited step toward pre-pandemic normalcy.
Still, some people — particularly those who are more vulnerable to the virus — remain nervous and continue to wear a mask in public settings.
With the state mandate for masks no longer in effect, most businesses in the valley have dropped their requirement, although some have shifted their message to “masks appreciated.” New signs at the Methow Valley Community Center “encourage mask use in this building to keep our community healthy.”
In one promising barometer of decreased COVID risk, the Methow Valley School District announced that no new cases had been detected through school screenings over the past two weeks. In an announcement to students, parents and community members on Saturday (March 12), the district called it an opportunity “to gracefully transition from a pandemic to an endemic.”
The school district is following new guidelines issued by the Washington Department of Health (DOH) in conjunction with the lifting of the statewide mask mandate as of March 12.
In schools, masks are no longer required for students and staff, except when a symptomatic student is in the health room. The district emphasized that they respect the right of anyone who chooses to continue to wear a mask.
The district will continue to notify families if there is a positive case or possible exposure at a school-sponsored activity.
Students can still take advantage of the “test to stay” program, which allows those who’ve been exposed to COVID — but who aren’t sick — to come to school as long as they test negative.
Students and staff members who test positive for COVID must isolate for five days at home. After the isolation period, if they have no fever and test negative, they can return to school. Those who have no fever but haven’t had a negative test result can return to school if they wear a mask until they test negative.
Anyone who has COVID symptoms should stay home and get a test. Free, rapid COVID tests are available at the school campus every morning — at Liberty Bell High School on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and near the District Office on Tuesday and Thursday.
Where still required
While the mask mandate is no longer in effect for most businesses and events, masks are still required in hospitals and medical offices, long-term care facilities and prisons.
Schools, counties and other jurisdictions can impose stricter protective measures if disease rates warrant.
Masks must also be worn on public transportation and airplanes. Last week the federal Transportation Security Administration extended the mandate through April 18, following the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The requirement also applies to airports and bus and train stations.
The CDC is reviewing criteria for masks on public transportation, including the level of infection in communities across the country, the risk of new variants, and the latest science, the two agencies said.
Okanogan County stats
COVID cases have been decreasing throughout Okanogan County and the region, but Okanogan County Public Health wasn’t able to provide detailed case data for the past week because a backlog in data entry at the state level made it impossible to ensure accurate information, Public Health said on Wednesday (March 9).
The Washington Disease Reporting System is normally updated daily with new cases. But because individuals may test positive several times within a week using different tests, each positive must be verified to avoid duplicate entries, Public Health said.
The CDC revises its assessment of COVID risk by county every week. As of March 10, the CDC lowered the risk to “medium” in Okanogan County, as well as in Douglas, Chelan and Grant counties. Most of Washington is now at low risk, with only Asotin County, in the southeastern corner of the state, at high risk, according to the CDC. The CDC’s ratings are based on cases per 100,000 population and on hospital admissions and available hospital beds in regional health-service areas.