Clallam masking order to be lifted March 21

Clallam County’s public health order requiring masking in indoor, public places will be rescinded on March 21, at the same time that the State of Washington plans to lift its statewide masking order, county officials said.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, we are transitioning into a new phase of our response,” said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, in a press release today, Thursday, Feb. 17.

“With COVID-19 case numbers decreasing and rising levels of population immunity in our community, we do believe that by the end of March, it will be safe to relax some of our COVID-19 mitigation measures,” she said in the release.

As of Feb. 17, the two-week case rate is 968 per 100,000 population. That rate represents a 50 percent drop since the middle of January.

Berry said she expects that rapid decrease to continue if masking in indoor and public places continues until March 21.

She cautioned that relaxing mitigation measures too early can change that trajectory.

“It is critically important that we all keep masking up indoors now so that we can get to that safer threshold sooner rather than later,” Berry said.

County officials point to a recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found those who consistently wore masks in indoor public settings were less likely to test positive for COVID-19 than people who did not. According to that study, people who wore N-95 or KN-95 masks had 83 percent lower odds of testing positive. Cloth and surgical masks lowered the odds by 56 percent and 66 percent, respectively.

Berry said she recommends wearing a mask in indoor, public settings even after the health order is lifted, especially for those at high risk of severe disease due to COVID-19.

She also encouraged the community to support the decision of any businesses that chooses to maintain a masking policy.

Sequim schools

On Thursday, interim superintendent Joan Zook with Sequim School District wrote to parents and guardians reiterating that the indoor mask requirement ends in schools on March 21, as well.

“Once the statewide requirement is lifted, masks will be encouraged in our school buildings, but not required,” Zook wrote.

“Masks will still be required on school buses per a federal mandate that requires masks to be worn on all forms of public transportation.”

Masks will be required for all students, staff and visitors until March 21. They’ll be provided to those who need them, Zook wrote, and students not wearing masks will be sent home.

Zook added that district officials do not have control over the mandate and must follow Inslee’s directive.

Masks will become optional in buildings on and after March 21, she said.

“Students will have the choice to wear a mask at school, with the expectation that others’ choices will be respected,” Zook wrote. “One should not make assumptions regarding someone’s beliefs or health status, nor should they comment on them. Our district will not tolerate bullying of any kind for those who choose to continue wearing masks.”

She encouraged parents/guardians tell teachers their wishes for their child/children.

“Our educators will discuss the change with students in a developmentally appropriate manner, including how to respect others’ personal choice,” Zook wrote. “If your child(ren) expresses any anxiety, please feel free to reach out to our school counselors or psychologists for support.”

She said mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees, the increase of vaccine availability for children, high availability for virus testing, improved ventilation systems and self-mitigation protocols over the last two years helped prepare them for the mandate being lifted.

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