OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that he expects next week to announce some details for when the state will end COVID-19 emergency mask requirements that cover schools and businesses.

In a Wednesday news conference, Inslee also announced that an outdoor mask requirement for people at gatherings of 500 or more would end effective Feb. 18.

And the governor announced an end to the pause of elective surgeries starting that same day, as hospitalization levels for the virus continue to trend downward. Additionally, the Washington National Guard will no longer be needed to help in those facilities, he said.

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Washington’s masking requirements for K-12 schools and indoor public spaces and businesses remain in effect for now.

But, “I believe we will be in a position next week to be able to announce that date,” Inslee said. “I think that would be helpful for Washingtonians to have a goal and helpful for them to do whatever planning is necessary for that transition.”

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The discussion on winding down emergency COVID orders comes after states such as New Jersey, New York, Oregon and California have begun announcing the end of various mask requirements.

Throughout the pandemic, Republican state lawmakers have pushed back against the governor’s orders and his use of emergency powers — and those critiques continued Wednesday.

“It’s very disappointing that the governor chose only to announce an end to the outdoor mask mandate — something most people had forgotten even existed,” Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said in a statement. He added that California and Oregon have both already made announcements on masking.

“Somehow the science is different … here?” Braun said. “I don’t know if he is indifferent or just unprepared. Come on, governor the people of Washington deserve more.”

The governor’s office doesn’t have a specific set of public-health metrics to decide for lifting mask requirements, Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk wrote in an email earlier on Wednesday.

“But we are particularly attentive to the health care system and hospitalizations,” Faulk wrote.

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Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 2 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Watch here:

The governor has instituted some of the strictest public-health measures in the nation to tamp down the coronavirus, including a requirement that masks be worn in public places.

In August as the delta variant of the virus surged, Inslee reimposed a statewide mask mandate for most indoor spaces in public.

In September, the governor announced a mask requirement for outdoor gatherings of 500 or more people.

Even before those announcements, masks have been a requirement for students and workers in K-12 schools.

In a statement Wednesday, Washington state Schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal called on Inslee and the state Department of Health to allow local health districts to make decisions on masking.

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“As part of the transition from pandemic to endemic, I believe it is safe and timely to eliminate the statewide masking requirement for students and allow for a decision by local health officials,” Reykdal said in prepared remarks. “I recommend the Governor and Department of Health change the guidance to reflect this in the coming weeks.”

On Wednesday, more than a dozen House Republican lawmakers sent the governor a letter calling on him to end mask orders and vaccine mandates for government, school and health care workers.

“From all corners of Washington, people — including school students — are demanding an end to indoor-mask requirements,” according to the letter by Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, and others. “They offer compelling testimony about the problems mask mandates and other restrictions cause in their lives, work and studies.”

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