Moving Beyond the Statewide Mask Mandate

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On February 17th, Governor Inslee announced that the statewide indoor mask mandate will be lifted on March 21st, 2022. This mandate, which includes indoor locations such as restaurants, grocery stores, malls, and public-facing offices, has been in effect in some capacity since June 24, 2020. Beginning on March 21st, the mandate will also be lifted for K-12 schools and childcare locations throughout the state.

For many people, this is going to feel like a big change. After all, we’ve been required to wear a face covering for nearly two years now. If you have questions or concerns about this shift in direction—if you are feeling big emotions like frustration, anger, fear, or apprehension—please know that all these responses are valid.

Current Disease Summary

We are still experiencing a level of disease activity across the state that is considered high by the CDC, with case, hospitalization, and death rates still well above what we would have considered “acceptable” prior to the Omicron surge. So, you may ask, why end the mask mandate now?

The governor’s decision is based on science and our current statewide data. While rates are still high, we have been seeing a decrease in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations for several weeks now and, as a result, our hospitals are better able to care for patient loads. The date was selected based on our hospitalization trends and where the state predicts we will be in the next several weeks. It has been determined that by March 21st, Washington state will be at a safe level of disease activity, which will allow our hospitals to operate at a sustainable level.

We have also seen similar trends around the globe where Omicron surged before us. Many experts are predicting that the pandemic may be on the way to becoming endemic, meaning most cases will be less severe, and the disease’s impact on society will be more predictable and (in theory) less disruptive.

By the end of March, statewide COVID-19 hospital admissions are projected to fall to levels that no longer overwhelm hospital systems.

Another big factor? More than 73 percent of Washingtonians are now at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 and over 2 million boosters have been administered. The large number of people who were infected during the Omicron surge will also likely result in some additional community immunity, at least for the short term. However, because we don’t know yet how long this immunity lasts or have a way to test for it in individuals, vaccination is recommended for everyone, even those who have been previously infected.

Change Will Be A Gradual Process

It is important to remember that change will be gradual. The governor began the process last Friday by lifting the outdoor mask mandate, which included large outdoor gathering and events with more than 500 attendees. Now, folks are free to attend outdoor concerts, street fairs, and farmers markets sans mask—something that many of us wouldn’t have considered doing back in the thick of 2020 or 2021.

The lifting of the indoor mask mandate on March 21st will also not include certain indoor settings considered to be high-risk for disease spread, like healthcare settings, long-term care, and correctional facilities.

Also still in effect is the federal mask mandate that requires masking on all forms of public transportation, including buses, trains, and airplanes, and in transportation hubs. This mandate is still in place, though the White House is reviewing data and may announce changes in the near future.

And though the mandate will be lifted for K-12 schools on March 21st, schools will still be required to report COVID cases and outbreaks and work with local public health departments to monitor disease activity. Routine testing, isolation, and quarantine protocols will also remain in place per the CDC’s guidance.

Feel Empowered to Mask Up

For those who are weary about taking off their mask, please know that Washingtonians can make their own decisions about when it may be appropriate to wear a mask, even after the mask mandate ends. This goes for businesses, as well, which still retain the right to choose stricter requirements.

Those who want or need to wear a mask in public can continue to do so. If you are at greater risk because of factors such as your age or underlying health conditions, you are encouraged to continue to take more precautions. There also may be certain settings where wearing a mask makes sense, like when caring for someone who is high-risk, if you are sick, if you’re in a location where social distancing isn’t possible, or if you are not fully vaccinated.

And if you are choosing to wear a mask in certain settings, you may wonder what mask you should wear. The answer is simple: Wear the mask that you will use consistently—and correctly.


For additional information on Governor Inslee’s announcement, please read the full press release or call the State COVID-19 Information Hotline at 1-800-525-0127. For local questions related to COVID-19, you may contact Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.


Omicron and Masking: Is it time to update your mask collection?

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The new Omicron variant is now circulating in Washington State. Although we do not yet have an official report of the variant here in Skagit County, now is the time to be taking precautions. There is still much that experts don’t know about this new variant. What we do know, though, is that we already have the tools we need to fight the spread of omicron.

The CDC has listed vaccination, boosters, testing, and masking as the best ways to keep omicron under control. We know that COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death, and the CDC recommends that those 16 years and older who are eligible for a booster go and get theirs now.

As for masking—we know that face masks offer protection against all variants, including omicron. The CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, regardless of vaccination status. Here in Washington, the statewide mask mandate requires that all people five years of age and older must wear a mask in public indoor settings and at large, outdoor events with 500 or more attendees, including sporting events, fairs, parades, and concerts, regardless of vaccination status.

We’ve been masking up for 21 months at this point, and some of us have amassed quite the collection! Some of those masks may be getting a bit worn, or maybe they’re not fitting as snugly as you’d like. If you’re wondering if those cloth face masks from 2020 are still offering the right amount of protection, please read on.

NOTE: No child under the age of two should wear a face mask for safety reasons.

It comes down to fit and quality.

When choosing a face mask, it comes down to fit and quality. So, let’s discuss fit first.

Masks that are loose, with gaps around your face or nose, are not as helpful in protecting you or others. A mask should completely cover your nose and mouth and should fit snugly against the sides of your face without any gaps.

To ensure a proper fit, you can choose masks with a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask. You can also use a mask fitter to help ensure a snug fit with a cloth mask. For visuals of these tips, visit the guidance for improved mask use from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Knotting and tucking is also a good way to improve the fit of a medical procedure mask. Knot the ear loops of the mask where they join the edge of the mask, then fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges. (For instructions, see the following https://youtu.be/GzTAZDsNBe0)

Wearing a mask with at least two layers is also important. Some people even opt to wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask. (Note: N95/KN95 masks should not be layered with other masks.)

And for quality…

The highest quality masks are designed and tested to ensure they meet a standard. That means they perform at a consistent level to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The level of quality you need will be dependent on the situation. Sometimes a cloth mask will work just fine, and at other times, a higher quality mask may be called for.

The highest quality, in order, are:

  1. N95 and KN95 (as well as KF94) are the most effective, provided they are genuine and have been tested to meet a standard. These are disposable, so you will need to replace them (depending on how much you wear it). These are not available in children’s sizes and are more expensive.
  2. Surgical masks that have been tested to meet a national standard (ASTM 2/3). These are also disposable.  
  3. Cloth masks that have a double layer. These can be washed and re-used.

When to consider wearing a N95 or KN95 mask. 

For the best protection against COVID-19 variants such as omicron, there are times when folks may want to consider a higher quality mask. However, it is important to note that if you do not have this type of mask available, a high-quality, well-fitting surgical or cloth mask will do just fine.  

The following scenarios may warrant the need for better protection against COVID-19:

Should you use N95 and KN95 masks for everyday use?

The supply of high-quality N95 and KN95 masks have definitely improved since the early days of the pandemic. These are better at filtering the virus and now are more widely available for the public. Even still, the CDC does not recommend the use of N95 respirators for protection against COVID-19 in non-healthcare settings, stating that these masks should be prioritized for healthcare personnel and for other workers who are required to wear them for protection against other hazards. An exception to this would be for scenarios such as the ones listed above.

These types of masks are highly effective when used properly. They are tight-fitting respirators that—when fit properly—filter out at least 95% of particles in the air, including large and small particles. These masks meet a standard of quality, meaning that they are designed and tested to ensure they perform at a consistent level to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As stated above, N95 and KN95 masks are not available in children’s sizes and can be more expensive. If folks decide to go this route for everyday use, that is perfectly fine. But remember: a high-quality, well-fitting surgical or cloth mask are great everyday options for the whole family (minus those itty bitty kiddos and babies).

For N95 and KN95 masks, fit and quality are key.

Most people outside of health care settings don’t have access to fit testing to ensure proper use with minimal air leakage. If an N95 does not fit tightly, you won’t get the full benefit. Aside from fit testing, some people might find that N95s are less comfortable for everyday use. For these reasons, you should use your best judgement on how much value these types of masks add in a particular scenario.

Counterfeits are a challenge, so find a reputable dealer and make sure the product is legitimate. KN95 masks are commonly made and used in China. Some KN95 masks sold in the United States meet requirements similar to those set by NIOSH, while other KN95 masks do not. It is also important to know that about 60% KN95 masks in the United States are counterfeit (fake)and DO NOT meet NIOSH requirements. Some N95 masks also are counterfeits, described in this article from the CDC.

Need a good resource to ensure the quality and legitimacy of your mask? Project N95 aims to help people find a credible source for buying N95 and KN95. 


As we learn more about omicron, please use everything in your toolkit to keep yourself and your family safe. Mask up, get tested and stay home when sick or exposed, and—most importantly—get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19. To find your vaccine, go to Vaccine Locator today or give the COVID-19 Info Hotline a call at 1-800-525-0127, then press #.


Public Health Reminder: Masking Still Critical this Holiday Season

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December 1, 2021

The holidays are upon us. As Skagitonians are out and about preparing for holiday festivities, please remember: masking is still critical—and required—in all indoor public spaces AND certain outdoor settings. This includes all local businesses, chain outlets, and grocery stores.

The statewide mask mandate requires that all people five years of age and older must wear a mask in public indoor settings and at large, outdoor events with 500 or more attendees, including sporting events, fairs, parades, and concerts, regardless of vaccination status.

There are some exceptions to the mask requirement, including children under five years of age, and people with a medical or mental health condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask. Children between 2 and 4 years of age can, and are encouraged, to wear a mask under close adult supervision. Children under 2 should not wear masks.

Face masks remain an important tool in preventing transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Though Skagit County is just over 60 percent fully vaccinated, there are still many folks, including young children, who are not protected.

Science has shown that masking works. COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets when infected people—many of whom do not exhibit COVID-19 symptoms—cough, sneeze, or talk. Evidence shows that wearing a mask reduces an infected person’s chance of spreading the infection to others.

Furthermore, it is imperative that people wear their mask properly. To be effective, a mask must cover the nose, mouth, and chin, and must fit snuggly against one’s face. For tips on getting the best fit, visit the CDC’s mask guidance webpage here.

Wearing a mask when out in the community is an easy way to show your neighbors and favorite businesses that you care this holiday season. Please help our local businesses operate smoothly this season by following all state and local rules and guidance.

Another great way to ensure that things run smoothly for the holidays is by taking precautions at home. If unvaccinated, please remember that masking is still recommended when gathering with non-household members, especially when indoors. COVID-19 can easily spread in these types of environments, causing folks to miss out on school, work, and fun, festive holiday events.

Have a wonderful holiday season, Skagit! Be well!


Family Beach Day During “COVID Summer”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I don’t know about you, but the last several weeks my family and I have been feeling more cooped up than usual. It has been difficult to deal with the realities of our current situation as the days are now sunny and warm and perfect for all things SUMMER! I feel like I spend a good chunk of my time dreaming up ideas for the weekend, just to strike everything off the list because they are not COVID-safe activities. Last Friday was definitely a tipping point for me, as I sat deflated, and—let’s be honest—angry about not having anything fun planned for the weekend to come.

To pull myself out of this emotional slump, I picked up the phone. I dialed Deception Pass State Park and, with fingers crossed, asked the woman on the phone if their beach was open for visitors. She said that it was, and I thanked her profusely (and rather dramatically) before hanging up. “Woohoo!! Tomorrow will be beach day,” I shouted to my husband. I went to bed feeling over-the-moon excited about finally having a “normal” summer activity planned.

As we drove into the park, I looked around to gauge if anything looked different from last summer. I was nervous about being so out in the open and felt a little anxious about what I might find as we pulled into the parking lot. When we finally parked, I let out a sign of relief.

Deception Pass State Park – photo of the beach at 1:00 pm right before we left for the day.

Along with the regular beach things like sand toys, hats, sunscreen, and a packed lunch, I was sure to bring a face mask for my husband and myself. Even though our oldest is only three (and exempt from the State/County mask requirement), I packed a little pink practice mask along in case she wanted to imitate mommy (and yes, she absolutely did, and it was very cute). Thankfully, we had decided to get there early (as recommended online), in order to avoid larger groups that would gather later in the afternoon. This turned out to be a very smart move! By around 1:30pm, the whole beach was becoming packed with people, and we were able to make a mad dash to the car to keep socially distanced.

All in all, our little adventure at the beach went swimmingly (HA!). Except for having to wear a mask and being a bit more protective of our personal space than I typically would, the day seemed like any other beach day that my family and I might have enjoyed in the past. We all left feeling physically spent, but emotionally energized. On the car ride home, my husband suggested that we should go grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant (which we haven’t done since early March). For the first time in a very long time we sat and enjoyed a meal all together on an outdoor patio. Something that would have been so normal last year now felt like the most delicious treat, and I was impressed and grateful as I watched the restaurant staff and patrons abide by safe-distancing protocols.

What I realized in venturing outside of my comfort zone last weekend is that I cannot feasibly hole up forever. I need to make peace with the fact that this is a marathon—not a sprint—and I need to find balance in order to keep my sanity intact. So, while it isn’t safe or responsible to take on a full calendar of summertime events like before, it is absolutely okay to get out and safely find a little normalcy in very abnormal times.

Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Remember: find some balance this summer and take care of your mental and emotional needs. A little sand between the toes does a lot of good once in a while!

So here are a few take-aways for other households who may be looking for a little beachy fun.

  1. Go early. Like I mentioned above, this is essential in order to make sure that you avoid the crowds that will inevitably arrive come mid-afternoon. We got to the beach at 11am, and it was perfect timing! We were able to secure a space for our things that allowed for safe distancing, and we made an effort to steer clear of more congested areas. Just about the time when we were all feeling sunned-out and a little cranky, it was time to go!
  2. Have your face mask on hand. You will be expected to wear it when using public facilities, and it is smart to wear one when passing people in the parking lot or along trails. Children four and younger and those with underlying medical or behavioral health conditions are exempt from the mask requirement. However, parents of children ages two to four are encouraged to have masks available for their kids when in public settings. Lastly, the CDC states that masks are not required to be worn while people are in the water because they can be difficult to breathe through when they get wet. However, this means that it is even more important to maintain social distancing while swimming or wading.
  3. Pack what you will need and avoid unnecessary stops. And with multiple children, this can be a huge undertaking! Be sure to pack your own sand toys, sunscreen, towels, swimwear, hand wipes, and food (when applicable). Before arriving at the beach, talk to your children about keeping track of their toys and explain why—in this particular situation— they shouldn’t share. Talk to your kids about what they should expect when they get to the beach, and talk them through the experience. 
  4. Practice good hygiene and follow posted instructions. This not only will ensure that you keep yourself and your loved ones safe, but also lets the people around you know that you are taking these new requirements seriously. The more people that are seen following these safety precautions, the more likely that others will follow suit.
  5. Don’t go if you are feeling sick. Also, do not go if you have had recent exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case. Keep in mind that many infected people never show symptoms but can still be contagious. We can all do our part to curb the spread of the virus, and that means staying home when we have symptoms. You can find the list of symptoms here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

Child with face mask

Tips for Face Covering for Kids

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Beginning Friday, June 26, Washington State now requires everyone to wear a cloth face covering in public when they cannot maintain six feet of distance from others. Here are some answers to questions that parents and other caregivers might have about face coverings and children. 

When does the face covering requirement apply to children? 

The requirement applies to children ages five years and older, unless they are medically directed to do otherwise. The Washington State Department of Health strongly recommends, but does not require, children who are two to four years old use face coverings in public settings under the close supervision of an adult. Children who are younger than two should never wear face coverings. With smaller airways, breathing through masks are difficult for little ones. For infants, there may be an increased risk of suffocation. Also, older infants and young toddlers are likely to pull the mask off, resulting in them touching their face more often. The risks outweigh the benefits for children younger than two years old.

Children older than five do not need to wear face coverings when they are at home or in the car if they are only with people from their own household. They also do not need to wear a face covering when playing outdoors when they can maintain six feet of social distance from others. When you are outdoors as a family, it is a good idea to keep face coverings in a pocket or bag to use in case you come across other people from whom you cannot stay six feet away.

What are some tips for encouraging younger children to wear face coverings?

ParentMap recently published an article with some great tips on encouraging children to wear face coverings. The advice includes:

  • Children often learn through play; you can introduce the idea by placing a face covering or mask on your child’s favorite doll or stuffed animal.
  • Buy or make masks in patterns that match your child’s interests. If your child is into unicorns or superheroes, choose a pattern that they will be excited to wear.
  • Practice wearing a face covering at home, even if it is just for a few minutes. This is especially important if your kids are headed to a place where a face covering is required, like on an airplane flight. 

What should I look for in face coverings?

The face covering should fit securely over your child’s nose and mouth. If you are purchasing one, look for washable covering made from multiple layers of tightly woven fabric. Every child is different so you might need to try a few styles and sizes before finding one that works best.

If you would like to make your own, there many tutorials online that can be made without any sewing skills and with materials you probably already have at home. The CDC has several easy-to-follow templates and mask-making instructions on its website

How should I care for my child’s face coverings?

It is safest to wash your face covering after each wear because it has the potential to be contaminated when you are out in public. The best practice is for children and caregivers to wash or sanitize their hands before putting on and after removing their face coverings. You should try to avoid touching the outside of the covering by folding it carefully and storing it in a private place, such as a personal plastic zip-top bag.

Finally, it is important to remember that wearing masks enhances but does not replace the other prevention measures that we have already been doing. We all still need to stay home when we are sick, keep six feet away from others, and wash our hands frequently.


Should I Wear a Face Mask? The Answer is yes

Reading Time: 3 minutes Reading Time: 3 minutes

How and when to cover your face to slow the spread of COVID-19

For weeks people have been asking, “Should I wear a face mask in public?” In short, the answer is YES.

Staying at home and limiting contact to only people in our household is best. But at some point, many of us will need to go to the grocery store, or the pharmacy, or to our jobs if we work at one of the identified essential businesses.  How do you stay healthy and keep others safe when you need to venture out into the world to meet you or your family’s essential needs?

The CDC and Skagit County’s Health Officer are now recommending we wear face masks or coverings in public for any group gathering, including workplaces. This will be a key tool in preventing the spread of infection from COVID-19.

Wearing a mask/covering does not mean you should go about your life as before. To stay safe for yourself and others you still need to:

  • Maintain good social distancing practices – 6-feet of physical distance from non-household members, and
  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water (best) or with alcohol-based hand sanitizer (good second choice when soap and water aren’t available) , and
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Never touch your face with dirty hands.

Wearing cloth face coverings will not prevent spread of COVID-19 without these other protective measures.

Why Now?

Recent studies show that many people with COVID-19 transmit the virus even when they are not showing any symptoms. This means people who don’t feel sick or look sick can spread COVID-19 through speaking, coughing, or sneezing. In light of this new evidence, the CDC and Skagit County Public Health concluded face masks or coverings are necessary to the Skagit community’s health.

Cloth Face Coverings vs N-95 Respirators

Cloth face coverings made from household items and common materials at low cost is recommended. Do It Yourself (DYI) cloth face coverings are also called “face masks”.

The CDC is not recommending N-95 respirators for the general public – these are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.

Cloth Face Coverings 101

Don’t have a face covering? Check out these options – even if you don’t sew, there are effective options for everyone.

How to safely wear your new cloth face covering.

The CDC notes that cloth face coverings should:

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face.
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops.
  • Include multiple layers of fabric.
  • Allow for breathing without restriction.
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.

Remember