Opinion: Governor announces end to mask mandate in Washington state, but his misguided vaccine mandate remains

Elizabeth Hovde of the Washington Policy Center takes an in-depth look at the impact of Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandates.

Elizabeth Hovde of the Washington Policy Center takes an in-depth look at the impact of Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandates

Elizabeth Hovde
Washington Policy Center

This week, Gov. Jay Inslee appeared to be in a no-win situation regarding his strict indoor mask mandate, in place now for nearly two years. He could keep it, despite the rest of the nation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention going mask free, and risk having more of the public ignore him. That would create unnecessary trouble for businesses. Keeping it would also further anger many parents, due to the harmful and possibly lasting effect masks have on childhood development and learning. 

Elizabeth Hovde
Elizabeth Hovde

However, the end to his mask mandate March 12, as he announced Monday, has many others saying he “caved.” 

Part of the view that he caved is Inslee’s own fault. Just weeks ago, he said masks would stay mandatory until hospitalizations fell to five per 100,000 people. The state’s hospitalizations have not fallen to that level yet and might not before March 12, but the governor is dropping the mask rule anyway. We also have a higher COVID-19 infection rate now than we have had at other times, although most cases are less severe. That makes the timing confusing to some people.

Although Inslee says his strict rules have “saved lives,” states with no mask mandates have hospitalization rates equal to or better than ours. Public health data also suggests harsh mandates and social restrictions are linked to what are known as “deaths of despair” — fatalities from drug overdoses, alcohol use and suicide. Data from the CDC show that these deaths of despair spiked during 2020. (Read more about non-COVID excess deaths here and here.) 

Instead of learning from the laboratory of the states, the governor is still arrogantly insisting that other states should be following him.

For the past two years, federal leaders and governors of some states have said forced masks and vaccines would keep us safe, when the reality is that COVID-19 is random, mean and contagious. Vaccinated people wearing masks get sick anyway. Vaccination does appear to reduce COVID-19’s severity, but it does not stop its contraction or spread. Mask mandates also cannot stop contraction and spread. 

Dropping the mask mandate does not mean people are barred from mask-wearing if they want to. See “Will a mask protect me even if no one else is wearing one?” for more information about personal decisions for you and your family. 

Our state and federal governments would have kept more people’s trust if they gave them all the information known about COVID-19 without slant — and trusted them to be partners in how we go about daily life in COVID-19’s presence.

Lifting the mask mandate and empowering individuals to make their own risk assessment is the policy we should have followed long ago, given what we know about COVID-19. And the governor needs to go much further, ending the vaccine mandate on government employees and health care workers. His public policy is perplexing, at the least. Both unvaccinated and vaccinated people can contract and spread the disease, and the governor’s mandate ignores the power of natural immunity, which today is benefitting more people than ever. Creating more unemployed Washingtonians and adding to service-delivery problems in various public sectors and health care settings has been detrimental. 

Gov. Inslee should honestly reassess the wreckage the vaccine mandate has brought to individuals and families. Instead of apologizing, he is further dividing us. In Monday’s press conference, he said, without evidence, “Republicans don’t care about employees.”

It’s clear that new information, science and data are not changing the governor’s mind about rules that, over time, prove misguided. 

While it serves the public good that the governor is now relenting on his mask mandate, if we don’t start having honest discussions about what we’ve experienced the past two years, we won’t learn why mandates didn’t work in the first place.

Elizabeth Hovde is a policy analyst and the director of the Centers for Health Care and Worker Rights at the Washington Policy Center. She is a Clark County resident.

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