California, Oregon, and Washington will no longer require masks in classrooms after the end of next week, as plunging COVID case rates across the West Coast accelerate efforts to return to something like normal life.
The three states will shift to recommending masks in schools and child-care facilities, rather than mandating them, after March 11, according to a statement Monday. Oregon and Washington will lift mask rules for most other indoor settings at that time as well. California had let its mask requirement for indoor public spaces expire earlier this month.
School mask mandates have emerged as one of the most emotionally charged issues of the pandemic’s third year, pitting parents who want them ended immediately against others favoring a more cautious approach. The Western states, all led by Democratic governors, join areas including New York and Illinois in lifting their requirements for schools. But the debate won’t completely end, as individual school districts in the West will still be able to require masks if they choose.
“While this represents another step forward for Washingtonians, we must still be mindful that many within our communities remain vulnerable,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement. “Many businesses and families will continue choosing to wear masks, because we’ve learned how effective they are at keeping one another safe.”
Still, Monday’s announcement represents a major step toward easing the restrictions that have reshaped almost every aspect of daily life in the three states, which were among the first in the country hit by the pandemic. And in a sign of just how quickly the rules are shifting, Oregon and Washington moved up the lifting of their indoor mask mandates, which officials previously said would be removed on March 19 and March 21, respectively.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, announced this month that his state would shift to a new strategy of dealing with the pandemic as an ongoing risk, rather than an emergency. As of Tuesday, the state also will no longer mandate masks for unvaccinated people in most indoor settings, instead making them “strongly recommended.”
While many requirements for public masking are now being lifted, some remain. In each of the three states, masks must still be worn in health-care facilities and on mass transit, for example.
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