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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Region’s health care facilities can drop mask requirement, but will they?

Washington’s masking mandate for health care facilities expires on Monday as COVID cases are on the decline.  (SSR)

Come Monday, masks will be requested but not required at many health care facilities in the Spokane region.

The state’s mask mandate for health and long-term care facilities is ending three years after the pandemic started. COVID-19, RSV and influenza rates and hospitalizations have continued to decline since the end of last year, the Washington State Department of Health said.

Still, the state “continues to recommend masks” for patients, health care providers and visitors.

“Masks have been – and will continue to be – an important tool, along with vaccinations, to keep people healthy and safe,” said Dr. Umair Shah, Washington secretary of health.

The end of Washington’s universal masking requirements for health care sites aligns with a similar update in Oregon.

Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center is one of the few facilities that will require masks for everyone within its hospital and regional clinics.

Though unaffected by Washington’s laws, Kootenai Health said that because of higher COVID transmission rates, it also will still require universal mask-wearing in its hospital.

Here’s a look at the new mask policies for health facilities across the region:

Kootenai Health

The hospital in Coeur d’Alene said that because it serves Medicare and Medicaid patients, it “follows the requirements established by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which says to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.”

“At this time, the CDC still says health care personnel, patients and visitors must mask in patient care areas when community transmission levels are high, which is currently the case in northern Idaho.”

Local VA facilities

It’s a similar situation for Mann-Grandstaff.

“The Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center continues to follow CDC guidelines that align with community transmission levels, which for some of our clinics remains high,” said spokesman Bret Bowers.

“We’re masking in all clinical and common areas at the medical center and our clinics – we have clinics in Libby, Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene and Wenatchee. We also have clinics in downtown Spokane.”

VA medical center directors do have discretion to ease mask rules, but only when transmission levels drop to medium or low, Bowers said. “We’ve seen some of our clinics flirt with that over the past few months, where it does dip down, and then we’ll have another clinic go back up to high, so we just have to maintain consistency with the clinics that are aligned with our medical center.”

U-District Physical Therapy

The state says facilities and providers may choose to continue to require masks. However, several local providers have opted to ease their mask rules, including independently-owned clinics.

“We’ve made the decision as a company from the ownership group that it’s going to be put into patient decision, so it will be optional as of that April 3 date, unless basically one of our patients decides they would prefer that their care team wears a mask,” said John Wehrer, clinic manager at U-District Physical Therapy in Kendall Yards.

The physical therapy group will have the same policy at two other locations, downtown and in Liberty Lake.

“We’re looking to respect that choice of a mask and then provide the best experience for that patient but also respect that other people with this change are not going to be wearing a mask or will prefer not to wear a mask. We’re just going with the flow of those patient decisions.”


CHAS Health said it also will lift masking requirements at its clinics.

“We will still encourage anyone who is feeling sick, has upper respiratory symptoms, or feels more comfortable wearing a mask to do so,” spokeswoman Tamitha Shockley French said in an email.


Providence Health Care issued an “interim mask policy” Thursday, as the state DOH mask order ceases and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is scheduled to end a COVID-19 federal public health emergency May 11.

Providence’s new mask protocols apply to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, Holy Family Hospital, St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Medical Center, its medical group clinics, and Mount Carmel and St. Joseph’s hospitals.

Patients are advised to wear a mask when another person is in a room or providing care, or if the patient is in the hallway or waiting area. Masking will be required if the patient exhibits COVID-19 or other respiratory symptoms.

Masks for visitors are recommended when they enter patient rooms or speak with hospital staff.

“Please remember, if you enter a hospital, you are attesting that you do not have COVID symptoms,” the policy says.

At Providence clinics, patients and visitors can follow “recommended but not required” wearing of masks, except when there are symptoms of COVID-19 or other respiratory illness. Visitors also will need to wear a mask if asked to by a patient.

If high levels of COVID or other respiratory illnesses afflict Spokane, Providence said it may re-institute universal masking.

Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente said this week that its infection prevention and physician leaders are still evaluating masking guidance. Kaiser didn’t provide a timeline for any updates.


MultiCare declined Thursday to disclose any mask protocol updates until a scheduled announcement Monday. The Tacoma-based nonprofit health care group owns hospitals across Washington, including MultiCare Deaconess and Valley Hospital.