Oregon and Washington State, known for cautious Covid strategies, lift their statewide mask mandates.


Oregon and Washington State, two of the most successful states at limiting deaths and infections during the pandemic, lifted their statewide mask mandates on Saturday, making masks optional in most settings.

Masks are still required in some locations in both states, including in nursing homes, hospitals, taxis and on public buses. And both states are leaving local school districts to decide whether to impose their own mandates.

Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington have been among the more cautious leaders when it comes to lifting public health restrictions, even when it has irritated officials in the states’ more conservative eastern counties.

But officials in both states have credited the public health measures, including their mask mandates, for saving countless lives. In the categories of total coronavirus cases and total deaths per 100,000 residents, Washington and Oregon are among the states with the lowest rates. And the number of new daily cases in both states have plunged in recent weeks after peaking in January during the Omicron-driven surge.

In February, Ms. Brown partly attributed the success in Oregon to combined efforts with California and Washington. “As has been made clear time and again over the last two years, Covid-19 does not stop at state borders or county lines,” she said in a statement at the time. “On the West Coast, our communities and economies are linked.”

On Saturday afternoon at the River Park Square shopping mall in downtown Spokane, Wash., masks were nearly nonexistent, other than a handful of store employees who said their corporate policies hadn’t changed.

Ben and Marie Atkinson, local physicians, were two exceptions. Sporting a clean white KF94 mask at their daughter’s 13th birthday party in the mall’s food court, Mr. Atkinson said, “We don’t think we’re at that point yet for taking masks off.”

By contrast, Jonathan Bingle, a Spokane city councilman, treated the lifting of the mask mandates as “a little bit of vindication.”

“I think it’s about a year and a half too late,” Mr. Bingle said.

Mr. Bingle said he believed in wearing masks at the beginning of the pandemic but recently refused to wear a mask in protest of the governor’s pandemic measures.

He hasn’t been to City Hall since late January, when, he said, he was warned that he could face a fine if he continued to work there unmasked. He was censured by the Spokane City Council in January for not wearing a mask.

On Monday, the City Council will hold its first in-person meeting at City Hall in two years. Mr. Bingle said he would be in attendance, without a face mask.

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