Masks In Schools: Department Of Health Releases New Guidance

OLYMPIA, WA — On March 12, Washington state is set to lift its indoor mask mandate, meaning that restaurants, grocery stores, gyms, bars — and yes, schools — will no longer be required to enforce indoor masking policies.

However, masks are still likely to be a common sight in most classrooms, at least according to the latest guidance from the Washington state Department of Health. That guidance, released Wednesday, leaves space for schools to continue requiring masks in select situations.

“While masks are no longer required universally in schools or provider settings, there will be situations when the use of well-fitting masks may be temporarily required for individuals by DOH and/or local public health,” the updated guidance reads.

Under the new regulations, students will be required to wear masks in the classroom for the first five days after returning from COVID-19 home isolation— unless they stay home ten full days after their initial exposure. Whole classrooms or sports teams may also be required to mask up after outbreaks or clusters of new COVID-19 cases. And districts and local health jurisdictions are also free to reimpose their own mask mandates.

“Schools, districts, child care facilities, and local public health jurisdictions may implement more protective requirements at any time or in response to an outbreak or local surge of disease,” the DOH said in a news release. “More protective guidance must be followed.”

Seattle Public Schools, for example, has already released its own mask guidance, which is set to go into effect Monday and makes masking optional for all children, staffers, volunteers, and visitors in indoor and outdoor settings and on school buses.

The state’s guidance follows a similar tack, and allows students, children and staff to continue wearing masks at school if they so choose, “with the expectation that others’ choices will be respected.”

“While Public Health is no longer mandating masks, masking is an individual choice,” said SPS Superintendent Brad Jones. “We won’t tolerate shaming or judging anyone in our schools for wearing a mask or not wearing a mask.”

Department of Health leadership say, continuing to allow masks in the classroom is one of several layered COVID-19 prevention measures — alongside frequent screening tests and higher ventilation — that are necessary to keep schools open and in person.

Source: Bellevue Patch