Statewide Indoor Mask Mandate in Effect August 23 Following Governor Press Conference; New Educator Vaccination Requirement

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August 18, 2021

State-wide Mask Mandate

Today, Governor Inslee announced that the existing statewide mask mandate will be expanded to once again include vaccinated individuals in indoor settings effective Monday, August 23. The mask mandate will apply to most all indoor public places across the state, including restaurants, grocery stores, malls, and public-facing offices, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

This expansion comes after hospitals throughout Washington State are seeing record-breaking numbers of new COVID patients, and as cases continue to surge in every county. At present, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has marked all 35 counties in Washington as areas of High Community Transition. Disease prevalence is approaching levels last seen in the winter 2020 surge. In Skagit County, 436 new COVID cases have been reported since last Wednesday alone.

Local cases are increasing at an alarming rate,” said Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director. “We know that people are worried about what they’re seeing in the news and we are hoping that the community will see this announcement as a positive step in getting things back to a manageable place. Current rates are not sustainable—not for our hospitals or for our families. We ask that people please mask up to keep their loved ones safe.

There will be limited exceptions when face coverings won’t be required, such as office spaces not easily accessible to the public where individuals are vaccinated, and when working alone indoors or in a vehicle with no public face-to-face interaction. Small, private indoor gatherings where all attendees are vaccinated are also exempt. Further, while not required, the Department of Health strongly recommends individuals also wear masks in crowded outdoor settings, such as outdoor concerts, fairs and farmers markets.

Educator vaccine requirement

The Governor also announced today that K -12 educators, school staff, coaches, bus drivers, school volunteers and others working in school facilities will have until October 18 to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment. The requirement includes public, private and charter schools, and comes as schools across the state prepare to return for the 2021–2022 school year amid rapidly increasing case and hospitalization numbers. This does not impact students, regardless of age.

Vaccines will also be a requirement for employees in Washington’s higher education institutions, as well as for most childcare and early learning providers who serve children from multiple households.

Education staff, faculty and contractors are also required to be fully vaccinated by October 18, consistent with the state worker vaccination requirement timeline.

Inslee stated that, as with state employees and private healthcare workers, there will be no test out option. There are limited exceptions under law which employees may apply for, including legitimate medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs. For full details, please read the press release here: https://medium.com/@GovInslee/inslee-announces-educator-vaccination-requirement-and-statewide-indoor-mask-mandate-a2f5a47d8a31


Visiting Loved Ones in Long-Term Care Facilities and Nursing Homes – Latest Guidelines

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Governor Inslee recently announced new visiting rules for long-term care facilities and nursing homes, which will give some families and friends increased access to see their loved ones. We know that people who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are often older adults and people with chronic health conditions—the groups who are at highest risk of complications from COVID-19. Since people live together in close proximity in these facilities, COVID-19 can easily spread within these environments, so protections were put in place to safeguard residents from the disease.

The new visiting rules will include a four-phase plan that is different from the state’s four-phase Safe Start Plan for counties that you may have heard about. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities cannot be in a more advanced phase than the counties they are in (Skagit County is currently in phase 2). Facilities will also stay in phase 1 if the local COVID case rate per 100,000 residents exceeds 75, which Skagit County currently exceeds as of August 26.

The new rules took effect on August 12, and family members should check with the facility their loved one lives in, because not every site may be able to conduct visits right away. It may take some time for facilities to work through the application and approval process with Washington State.

What will visiting look like in the different phases?

Depending on the phase, visiting access will differ. As of the time of this article, Skagit County remains in phase 1 with a high risk level.

Long-Term Care Facilities in Phase 1:

  • Indoor visits are limited to compassionate care situations. Compassionate care situations include end-of-life circumstances and for psychosocial needs (ex. distress brought on by the death of a loved one or a sudden lifestyle change).
  • Outdoor visits are allowed and limited to two visitors per resident per visit. These visits must include masking, social distancing, and appropriate hygiene.
  • Facilities may invite “window visits” at their discretion with safety protocols in place.
  • Remote visitation through technology must be facilitated.

Additional Access for Long-Term Care Facilities in Phase 2:

  • Adds ability of a designated “essential support person” to visit a resident once per day if the resident is unable to participate in outdoor visits and if remote visitation technology is unavailable.

Additional Access for Long-Term Care Facilities in Phase 3:

  • Indoor visits are generally permitted, with limitations. Facilities will establish visitor hours, visitor limits, and safety precautions. Preference should be given to outdoor visits.

Additional Access for Long-Term Care Facilities in Phase 4:

  • Normal visitation resumes.
The graduated restart plan is based off of the Washington State Safe Start Model.

Families should also know that a facility or agency must meet certain criteria before entering a new phase, including a current 28-day period without a resident or staff member testing positive for COVID-19 and having at least a 14-day supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) stocked.

Questions or Need Help for a Loved One?

This can be a stressful time for family members and caregivers. Washington State has established a FamHelp Long-Term Care Phone Hotline at (888) 856-5691 that is open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to answer questions about long-term care and other DSHS facilities.