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Washington’s remaining COVID-19 emergency orders to end on Oct. 31

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee holds a news conference on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022, to announce the end of emergency orders related to COVID-19.  (TVW)

Washington‘s 10 remaining COVID-19 emergency orders will be lifted by Oct. 31, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.

“We’ve come a long way the past two years in developing the tools that allow us to adapt and live with COVID-19,” Inslee said in a statement. “Ending this order does not mean we take it less seriously or will lose focus on how this virus has changed the way we live. We will continue our commitments to the public’s well-being, but simply through different tools that are now more appropriate for the era we’ve entered.”

The majority of the governor’s 85 emergency orders already have been lifted. An additional 13 health care related orders already had been announced to end Oct. 27. The remaining 10 will be lifted on Oct. 31, including the underlying state of emergency.

The extra time until then will allow hospitals time to come into compliance with existing requirements that had been waived during the pandemic, Inslee said.

Each order was “tailored to save lives,” Inslee said, but those orders are no longer necessary to fight the virus. “We are moving forward but we’re not done with our efforts against Covid.”

For instance, Inslee said that he had received his omicron-variant vaccine earlier in the day. “I hope others will join me,” he said.

The remaining emergency orders include requirements related to in-person K-12 and higher education programming, contact tracing and personal information under the Public Records Act, travel restrictions aligned with CDC requirements, protections for recently vaccinated workers and those in quarantine from adverse employer actions, and vaccine mandates for employees in certain fields.

Lifting the governor’s emergency orders does not change the Department of Health’s statewide face-covering order for health care and long-term care settings, as well as correctional facilities under certain circumstances. Inslee said he is looking at options to ensure there are protections for workers who choose to wear a mask in their workplace.

State vaccination requirements for health care and education workers will end, but employers will still be able to require them if they choose.

COVID-19 vaccination will remain a condition of employment for most Washington state agencies, Inslee said.

The city of Spokane will evaluate the governor’s announcement, “to be sure there’s a clear understanding about potential impacts to city operations,” city spokesman Brian Coddington said.

Last year, several Spokane firefighters resigned or retired to avoid the vaccine requirement, while 10 others were placed on a layoff list.

Half of those on the list are currently assigned to dispatch, which is considered nonmedical, Coddington said.

MultiCare Health System does not anticipate changing any of its requirements for staff or visitors, spokesperson Kevin Maloney said. Staff must be vaccinated and visitors must continue to wear masks.

State Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, said Inslee has relied on the best available data in making his emergency proclamations.

“The governor has used the best evidence and public health care protocols in his decision making, erring on the side of the health and safety of our residents.”

Though the state’s emergency orders are ending, public health leaders continue to emphasize the importance of vaccines and masks in keeping communities safe.

The state is averaging 1,070 new cases of COVID-19 a day. There have been 14,103 deaths from COVID-19 statewide, according to the health department.

Inslee estimated that an additional 19,000 lives could have been lost if Washington had the fatality rate of some other states. “Those are lives we saved because we acted,” he said.

Besides Washington, 10 other states still have active COVID-19 emergency orders, but four of those are set to expire this month, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

James Hanlon'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.