Clark County turns the page on masks as state term ends

On June 23, 2020, Washington announced a statewide requirement to wear masks in public places to slow the spread of COVID-19. This mandate was lifted in early July 2021 and quickly reinstated during the delta thrust.

Today, the mask mandate will be lifted again, and many in Clark County are hoping that will mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

Others, however, are not enthusiastic. Some lost loved ones after the mask mandate was lifted last July. Immunocompromised people fear lifting the mask mandate is premature. Some will continue to wear masks in indoor public places for the foreseeable future.

Masks will still be needed in high-risk settings, such as health care, correctional facilities, and long-term care facilities. But in most indoor public places, people will now be able to do without a mask.

Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick said that with cases and hospitalizations continuing to decline and with the availability of vaccines, boosters and other treatment options for those who catch COVID -19, he is cautiously optimistic that lifting the mask mandate is now appropriate. . It encourages people at high risk of serious illness and those who are worried to continue to mask up and avoid crowded indoor public spaces.

Above all, he recommends that more Clark County residents get vaccinated and that people respect the decisions of others — whether they choose to mask up or not.

Here’s a look at the response from Clark County agencies, businesses and schools.

Schools, libraries

In Clark County schools and libraries, the end of the statewide mask mandate should bring mixed emotions — but a general understanding that those who choose to continue wearing masks are welcome.

Craig Birnbach, spokesperson for Evergreen Public Schools, said the district has no shortage of masks and additional personal protective equipment for students and staff who may continue to request some — a concern the president of the district ‘Evergreen Education Association, Bill Beville, had expressed last month.

“Most of the staff are happy that we’ve gotten to this stage, in the sense that the numbers are down and we’re moving in such a good direction and we know that returning to a more normal school environment or traditional is good for our students,” Birnbach said. “I hate that word, ‘normal.’ We just want people to feel comfortable in what they choose.

Throughout February, a series of small student groups in Ridgefield, Battle Ground and elsewhere led a few dozen students to protest the mask mandate, advocating for freedom of choice for students attending public schools. .

Emalee Bowers, 11, from Camas, said she didn’t think much would change for her.

“If you’re more comfortable with it or without it, it’s okay,” she said. “Whatever floats your boat, you know?”

Bowers was among a dozen children browsing through books on the top floor of the Vancouver Community Library on Friday afternoon. In accordance with new state guidelines, FVRLibraries will allow customers to go without masks indoors.

“It will be a relief not to have to be the masked police,” said Thia Levesque, senior library assistant at the Vancouver Community Library. “I enjoyed it while it was happening and for the reasons why it was happening, but I think it’s probably time. The important thing is that it remains a choice, whoever wants to continue wearing it can keep wearing it.

Clark County Businesses

SEH America, a local manufacturer of silicon wafers for semiconductors, is not yet eliminating its mask mandate. The company doesn’t want to take the masks off just to have to put them back on if there’s a big surge, said Pat McDonnell, vice president of operations.

“We’re just going to be consistent for a while,” he said, adding that the company plans to review the policy in the first part of April.

“We operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” McDonnell said. “We are very dependent on the safety of our workplace, so we will be careful.”

Pedigo, a Vancouver-based healthcare equipment manufacturing company, plans to “follow the latest guidelines and guidelines,” said Paul Andrewjeski, director of customer service. So far, the company has struggled to track the progress of the rule changes and communicate it to employees.

Staff and guests at Beaches Restaurant and Bar, 1919 SE Columbia River Drive, will no longer be required to wear masks.

“Everyone is happy to take the mask off,” owner Mark Matthias said, mentioning that guests didn’t really have to wear them anyway, because they’re eating.

“Although, if I have a team member who still wants to wear it for their own views, then we will allow that,” he added.

local government

When city and county offices open Monday morning, visitors and staff are likely to see few changes in effect. Some jurisdictions are awaiting further clarification from the State Bureau of Labor and Industries before changing hours of operation and availability, for others it is business as usual.

Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart said the only noticeable difference will be that masks will no longer be required to enter public buildings. City staff will also not be required to wear masks while in the office.

“The Town of Ridgefield offices have been open to the public for several months now,” Stuart said.

Ridgefield City Council also won’t change its meeting format, which has been a hybrid of in-person and virtual meetings. Stuart said the board plans to continue this format for the foreseeable future.

“With the exception of maybe one or two meetings where there was a specific outbreak, our council held face-to-face meetings for months. They saw it was a good opportunity for people to participate who might not otherwise be able to,” Stuart said.

Among those awaiting further guidance from Washington Labor and Industries are Clark County and the cities of Vancouver and La Center.

“We want to make sure we’re doing what they advise,” said Joni McAnally, communications specialist for Clark County.

Clark County Council considered resuming in-person meetings in January, but decided to put the change on hold until the rise in omicron cases subsided. The board is expected to resume discussion in the coming weeks.

Clark County Public Health is also delaying the reopening of its public spaces.

“We remain stable for now,” said Marissa Armstrong, senior communications specialist.

Armstrong said many public health staff are working remotely, although some staff work in the field or come into the office periodically. But the agency will not yet open its doors to the public.

“Our offices, like our vital statistics office and our office of environmental public health which have public spaces, these will remain closed to the public for the time being. We will reassess that in the coming weeks,” Armstrong added.

People visiting Vancouver City Hall will not be required to wear a mask in the building. All city employees, on the other hand, are encouraged to wear a mask until the city receives further information on mask requirements.

There will also be more opportunities to use City Hall lobby services, such as submitting permit applications or paying for parking tickets, when its opening hours are extended from 28 March, said Laura Shepard, the city’s communications director.

Vancouver City Council plans to hold its first in-person meeting on the same day, which is still subject to state labor regulations. The rallies will be broadcast live by Clark/Vancouver Television and the city’s Facebook page for those unable to join City Hall.

criminal justice

Visitors to the Clark County Courthouse will also no longer be required to wear masks. Superior and District Court Administrations have made masks optional, except for those who have been exposed to COVID-19 or who are immunocompromised.

Superior Court Judge Derek Vanderwood said the court felt comfortable following in the footsteps of the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after consulting with Clark County Public Health.

Some operational changes fueled by the pandemic remain in effect, such as holding hearings via Zoom. Remote hearings mean fewer people are in the courthouse, so Vanderwood said it helps some feel more comfortable.

Courthouse officials are discussing hearings that will continue to be held virtually in the future.

Clark County District Attorney Tony Golik said he looked forward to seeing the faces of the defendants, judges and jurors again. His office will also make masks optional starting next week. He said the trials have been particularly difficult and it is difficult to argue a case before a jury whose faces are covered.

Masks will still be required inside the Clark County Jail, and sheriff’s deputies will continue to wear masks in places where they are needed, such as hospitals and care facilities, Sgt. said Brent Waddell.

People won’t have to wear masks inside the sheriff’s office compound, but the agency has yet to reopen the west Ridgefield compound.

Vancouver police officers will follow city policy and continue to hide indoors or with others until policies are updated, department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said. This means that they will continue to wear masks when transporting suspects or in public spaces.

Anyone entering a Vancouver police station will no longer have to wear a mask.

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