Cowlitz County officials are on the same page about one thing: There are no plans for a local mask mandate once the statewide requirement ends this weekend. -end next.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday that the mask mandate in Washington officially expires after March 11. The term end date has been brought forward twice in recent weeks and now aligns with the end of requirements in Oregon and California.
Local municipal governments and Cowlitz County commissioners avoided setting their own mandates outside of the state requirement during the two years that COVID-19 affected the state. In interviews this week, officials confirmed they would make the same call in the future.
“I don’t see us restricting beyond or beyond what the governor wants for the state,” Kelso City Manager Andrew Hamilton said.
Hamilton told City Council on Tuesday that he was awaiting guidance from the Washington City Insurance Authority before the city makes an official statement on the future of masks. The insurance authority provides risk management bulletins to member cities on new policies and legal actions that could affect their liability.
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Longview City Manager Kurt Sacha said the city will fully support any staff or member of the public who chooses to continue wearing masks in city buildings. Free masks will likely be provided to visitors at City Hall in the near future. A local extension of the mandate, however, seemed unlikely or even impossible to Sacha.
“I couldn’t imagine going this way, with all the strong feelings that there have been throughout this,” Sacha said. “There are people who think it should have been lifted a year ago and people who think it was the right thing to do all along.”
Masks will still be needed in some places after the overall indoor mandate ends: health care offices, long-term care centers, correctional facilities and public transportation such as RiverCities buses. Sole proprietorships may also choose to retain their own mandates.
Kalama City Administrator Adam Smee said Wednesday there was no indication the city council was interested in a local mandate. “I don’t expect any special rules from Kalama on masking,” Smee said.
In Castle Rock, Mayor Paul Helenberg said Friday he expects the city council to follow “regardless of the governor’s direction” on mask requirements in the future and that the council has not discussed of no additional mandate.
The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aligns with local direction. Updated CDC guidelines recommend that people living in counties with high levels of COVID-19 spread in their community continue to wear masks indoors.
The CDC map on Thursday listed Cowlitz County at the low risk level for the virus, along with 18 other Washington counties.
Cowlitz County Commissioner Dennis Weber said the three commissioners met this week with county health noncommissioned officer Dr. Steve Krager, who confirmed local numbers showed a steep decline in COVID cases. Weber said the end of the term could result in the rollback of other COVID precautionary measures, namely the plexiglass windows that have been added to many public-facing offices in the county building.
“I imagine people will remove those barriers, but it depends. If people have compromised health, they are absolutely entitled to their protections and should continue to wear masks,” Weber said.