OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that masking requirements for students in kindergarten through 12th grade schools will remain in place for the 2021-22 school year, in large part because of rising infections in the state/
For adults and those outside school settings, Inslee said the state will continue to recommend masking at indoor gatherings. The use of masks will not be mandatory, he said.
“We will continue our safe practices of masking for our students and our young people, and we will ask people to consider masking in other conditions consistent with CDC recommendations,” Inslee said in a morning press conference.
The governor attributed the need for masking to an increase in COVID-19 infection rates — an average of 931 new cases discovered statewide as of late last week, up from a low of 324 at the end of June — and the lack of approved vaccines for children under age 12. Masking in schools would apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated students, as well as teachers and staff.
“Certainly while this virus is increasing is not the time to decrease protection of our young children,” he said.
More than 70 percent of Washingtonians age 16 and older have initiated vaccination, the state Department of Health says, and about 63 percent of people have completed the required course of vaccines — two doses of Pfizer or Moderna inoculation, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But Inslee said more vaccinations are key to controlling the pandemic, and social media sources have been plagued by anti-vaccine falsehoods.
“It is unfortunate that we are in this position, because we have the tools to beat this,” he said. “We have the tools to break the back of this COVID pandemic, but there are too many people who although they have access to a free lifesaving vaccine have not availed themselves of that.
“… You don’t grow antlers out of your forehead when you get this vaccine. You get your life saved.”
Inslee said Washington is entering a possible “fifth wave” of COVID-19 infections, and warned that the fast-spreading delta variant of the virus will pose a challenge.
“That makes it very clear to us that there is one way out of this pandemic, and that is more vaccinations.”
He warned that other requirements are under consideration, including a possible mandate that healthcare employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine to continue in their work.