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Masks off: Fully vaccinated people can shed masks in Washington, Inslee announces following new CDC rules

UPDATED: Thu., May 13, 2021

Jeff Severson, with his dog Murphy, said that even with being vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, he will continue to wear a mask to protect himself regardless of the new CDC guidance about fully vaccinated people being able of remove masks indoors and outdoors.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
Jeff Severson, with his dog Murphy, said that even with being vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, he will continue to wear a mask to protect himself regardless of the new CDC guidance about fully vaccinated people being able of remove masks indoors and outdoors. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

It’s time to party like it’s 2019. But only if you are fully vaccinated.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask and physically distancing,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday.

The announcement came not as an incentive, Walensky said, but as a sign the CDC is following the science as case counts drop nationwide and the vaccines continue to prove to be effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization from COVID-19.

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The new guidance does not apply to people who are immunocompromised or have medical conditions that might weaken their immune systems, and national health officials advised these people to consult with their doctor before deciding to not wear a mask.

Washington state will adapt the new CDC guidelines into its mask mandate, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.

This means that all fully vaccinated residents in the state will not need to wear a mask when going into stores or restaurants, indoors or outdoors – unless the business keeps a mask mandate in place.

“Businesses will retain the right to require customers to wear masks, so they will be allowed to require customers and employees to wear masks, but there will not be a requirement if you are fully vaccinated in the state of Washington,” Inslee said.

If you are not fully vaccinated, however, the mask mandate still applies to you in Washington state. This means if you have one dose, two doses (but it hasn’t been two weeks since that second poke) or no doses, you still need to mask up just about everywhere.

Inslee said that the Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Industries are updating guidance documents soon, but new guidance had not been published by Thursday evening.

The new guidelines do not apply to health care settings, such as hospitals or long-term care facilities, as well as some other congregate settings like public transportation, schools, homeless shelters or prisons.

State leaders and health officials hope the desire to get back to normal life will push more people to get vaccinated.

Not even half of the state’s population will be allowed to take their masks off yet.

About 35% of the Washington’s population is fully vaccinated; of residents who are 16 and older, nearly 44% of them are fully vaccinated.

“Our hope is that we’ll increase people’s interest in fighting COVID because it will give people an additional incentive to get the vaccine,” Inslee said.

Vaccine coverage ranges depending on what county you live in.

For example, nearly 50% of King County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated. In Spokane County, nearly 37% of residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated.

Some businesses and residents will point to these statistics before shedding theirs masks.

Joan Brightman isn’t going to shed her mask going to the grocery store just yet.

“I’m 82, honey, we don’t screw around,” she said, laughing.

Brightman, who got her vaccine at the Spokane Arena back in March, is now fully vaccinated and comfortable eating indoors without a mask and walking in parks outside without a mask.

But walking into the grocery store or restaurant, she still plans to keep her mask handy, especially in case she encounters people who have not been vaccinated.

Her daughter, Lainey Wickens, who is a former ICU nurse, is already carrying her vaccination card with her. Brightman and Wickens plan to get their cards laminated soon.

Wickens and Brightman were vaccinated in late March when elderly residents and those in multigenerational households became eligible. They hope more people locally get vaccinated soon.

“The more people we get vaccinated, the quicker we can put a lid on these variants,” Wickens said.

Despite the new guidance, Wickens said she still plans to wear her mask in crowded locations, like the grocery store or Walmart . In shops with fewer people, restaurants or outdoor patios, she doesn’t plan to wear her mask. But in places where people are “more likely to be vaccine resistant,” including across the state line, she plans to keep wearing her mask too.

Some businesses already are announcing they will continue mask mandates despite the governor’s announcement .

Auntie’s Bookstore announced late Thursday that it will continue requiring masks.

“We care about the comfort and safety of our customers and staff and their families, and do not have the capacity to be checking vaccination cards at our doors,” a statement from Auntie’s Bookstore posted on social media says.

Inslee said it is legal for businesses to require masks or to check a person’s vaccination status before they enter the business or restaurant without a mask on.

The governor said the state is not imposing a requirement for businesses to check a person’s vaccination status for now, but noting that could change .

If you are fully or partially vaccinated, you should have a card that shows which vaccine you received and on what date. If you lost your card, you can access your vaccination records at myir.net.

On Thursday evening, the Department of Health announced that the website slowed down due to the high volume of people trying to access their vaccine records.

The revised mask mandate seems to put the onus on businesses and stores to verify if people not wearing masks are vaccinated.

Niki Reading, spokesperson for the Washington Hospitality Association, wrote in an email that the mask rule change was still so new, the association was seeking further clarity from the governor’s office about what it would mean for the industry.

Inslee noted that this relaxed guidance does not prevent anyone who is fully vaccinated from continuing to wear a mask .

“This does not prohibit anyone from wearing a mask if you are vaccinated and you want further protection,” Inslee told reporters Thursday.

State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah emphasized that the science behind the CDC’s decision is important.

“(Vaccines) protect the individual who’s been vaccinated, and they protect against variants at the same time,” Shah said.

S-R Reporter Laurel Demkovich contributed to this story.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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