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Survey shows mixed feelings about mask mandates ending

Most local counties still considered high risk for overwhelming hospitals

With mask mandates changing around the country and in the state of Washington, people expressed mixed feelings in a Star poll this week. 

Readers who took the poll on state mask mandates ending in March are split over the topic, with 56.5% being comfortable with the idea, and 43.5% being uncomfortable with it.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Feb. 17 that Covid-19 mask restrictions will be loosening on March 21 for the state, the date "we project we will be in a position to be able to reduce some of our requirements and therefore save our hospitals from being overrun," Inslee said. 

Conditions have improved even since then. On Feb. 28, that date was pushed forward to 11:59 p.m. on March 11, or in other words, March 12. 

At that time, masks will still be required at medical facilities, long-term care settings, public transit (including school buses due to federal law), correctional facilities, and at whatever private businesses choose to require them.

They will no longer be required in schools, libraries, restaurants, bars, gyms, grocery, or retail stores.

The Grand Coulee Dam School District Board of Directors on Monday said that they supported following the state's guidelines and not requiring people to wear masks.

Board Director Alex Tufts emphasized the importance of continuing to screen students for symptoms prior to entering the school. 

The survey The Star conducted following the governor's announcement happened to coincide with the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions announcement on Friday that people can stop wearing masks if they live in areas where COVID-19 is posing a low to medium threat level toward overwhelming hospitals, rather than basing the requirement on positive test results.

Washington State, however, is sticking with the March 12 timeline, so the CDC loosening of restrictions doesn't apply here.

About 70% of the U.S. population lives in low- to medium-risk areas; however, the CDC website as of Tuesday shows Grant, Okanogan, and Douglas counties as being high risk. Lincoln, Ferry, and Spokane counties are listed as medium risk for hospitals.

"People may choose to mask at any time," the CDC website says. "People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask.... If you are at high risk for severe illness, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions."

The CDC site also says to stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and to get tested if you have symptoms. 

In the Star survey, out of just 46 respondents, 23 (50%) said they are very comfortable with restrictions lifting in the state, 3 (6.5%) said they were comfortable, eight (17.4%) said they are uncomfortable, and 12 (26.1%) said they were very uncomfortable with the restrictions lifting. 

This makes for the split of 56.5% of respondents being either very comfortable or comfortable with the idea, and 43.5% very uncomfortable or just uncomfortable with it. 

Respondents expressed their thoughts on the matter. 

"Masks have gone on FAR too long, especially for school children," one person wrote. "It's been TWO YEARS - at this point, everybody has been exposed to the virus anyway. We need to get on with our lives, and can't do so with government overreach looming constantly overhead," one person wrote. 

"Still a little too soon to lift mandates for myself but understand how anxious some people are to not wear masks," another said. 

"The Covid rate in our town is still too high and with the stealth omicron variant coming soon I think lifting the mandate would be a grave mistake," another commented. "We already live in a small enough town, do we really want to live in an even smaller one because people refuse to care about the lives of others?"

 "I think it's time to lift the masks," another person wrote. "I am fully vaccinated and boostered. I feel I have done what I need to do!! It's time!!!"

"Hiding behind masks has not stopped the disease for over 700 days. It's time to get on with our lives," another said. 

"Masks are our only effective protection in keeping the COVID-19 pandemic under control," another person said. "I think the lifting of these requirements is for political reasons and to give the public a false sense of hope that we've progressed (which will eventually blow up in our faces as it has every single time they've decided to relax safety precautions during the pandemic so far). At every slight improvement we roll all of our protections back, and end up creating spikes which lead to unnecessary deaths and permanent/long-term health conditions that were totally unnecessary to occur."

"People who are vulnerable should continue to take precautions," another said, "but it is time for the rest of society to move into the endemic stage. Removing mandates doesn't prevent anyone from taking precautions and the mandates have been shown to do almost no good."

Several comments echoed that sentiment of letting people choose for themselves.

Other comments questioned the effectiveness of masks altogether. 

A CDC study released on Feb. 11 shows that N95 and KN95 masks, also referred to as respirators, made the wearer 83% less likely to contract Covid. People wearing surgical masks are 66% less likely to catch it, while cloth masks lessen the likelihood by 55%.

"The N95/KN95 respirator is more likely to be physically damaged or worn out before it needs to be replaced because of a COVID-19 exposure," said Marisa Baker, assistant professor at the University of Washington's Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences in a Seattle Times article. "You'll need to toss it because the strap broke, or it got wet in the rain, well before it would be overloaded and lose its filtration efficiency." Baker said.

Baker also said not to try to wash or disinfect your masks and suggests rotating which mask you wear throughout the week.


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