WSHA highly encourages Washington residents to continue wearing face masks in indoor public settings, even past the end of Washington State’s mask mandate on March 12. We believe this practice should be continued until we have multiple months of very low COVID-19 numbers under our belt. By masking up, you not only protect the safety of yourself and those around you, but also help reduce strain on your local hospitals to ensure they can continue providing health care services.
It is essential that we continue to protect our most vulnerable neighbors who, despite being vaccinated, can be immunocompromised or have health conditions that put them at high risk from COVID-19. These people are family members, loved ones and parents. Wearing your mask is an act of compassion for your community.
We are also concerned about the impact reduced masking will have on COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Washington hospitals are finally returning to non-critical status, where they are able to treat patients with non-urgent care and surgical needs. However, hospitals are still experiencing significant strain. While waiting for non-urgent procedures, many patients have experienced worsening of their conditions and are now coming into the hospital needing increased care and longer stays. We want to ensure that case numbers continue to decline, and wearing masks indoors will help sustain that trend.
One of the recent pressing challenges for hospitals was complying with the state proclamation requiring conventional use of all personal protective equipment, particularly N95 masks. Supply chain constraints continue to affect availability of N95 masks. WSHA supported member hospitals by coordinating an order directly from 3M. Additionally, the state proclamation requiring conventional use has now expired allowing for contingency use of N95s where necessary. The Washington State Department of Health has updated its guidance documents for health care settings to align with CDC recommendations and national guidelines For masks this means the following is applicable: SARS-CoV-2 Source Control in Healthcare Settings. The Department of Health has also shared the following updated guidance documents:
- Interim COVID-19 Outbreak Definition for Healthcare Settings: Updated to align with CSTE/COHRA outbreak definition.
- Visitor Guidance: Inpatient Hospital and Outpatient Settings: Updated to reflect that visitors should not visit health care facilities until 10 days from COVID-19 illness, and that visitors not up to date with COVID-19 vaccines should not visit health care facilities until 10 days from COVID-19 exposure, or 7 days with a negative test.
- Respirator Use to Prevent COVID-19 During Health Care Staff Shortages: Updated alert from the Department of Labor & Industries.
- Please also note that masks will still be required in hospitals, airports and public transit past the end of the mandate.
We both understand the desire to resume a more normal way of living and recognize that this will not be possible while vulnerable members of our community and local hospitals go unsupported. We urge you to join us in continuing to wear masks indoors to protective of yourself, your neighbors and the Washington health care system.