Fox News Flash top headlines for February 18
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New Mexico and Washington state moved to lift their indoor mask mandates on Thursday.
Starting on March 21, the mandate will lift in most places in Washington, including at schools and childcare facilities.
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On March 1, the vaccine verification or proof of a negative COVID-19 test will no longer be required for attendance at large events.
Masks will still be necessary in health care settings, at long-term care facilities, prisons and jails, in addition to on public transit.
A sign near the Space Needle notes that masks are required for indoor spaces, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Seattle. Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday that the statewide indoor mask mandate in Washington state will lift on March 21, 2022, including at schools and child care facilities.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Businesses and local governments that want to require masks for employees, customers and residents will still be able to.
Gov. Jay Inslee said the decision was based on hospital admission projections and Washington has seen a decline in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations since January’s peak of the omicron variant.
“To those who think maybe it should end earlier, all I can tell you is we lost 1,000 people in January to this disease,” he said. “And, when we make decisions, it seems to me we ought to have a recognition of how dangerous and deadly this disease still is after this period of time.”
Non-urgent procedures – which have been on hold since last month – will also be able to resume Friday.
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Also on Thursday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lifted her state’s mask mandate for indoor public spaces.
The state’s top health official had said last week that masks were effective and that New Mexico was still in “hot water” as the pandemic continues.
Infections have also been declining there, and the governor cited reduced coronavirus risks as the reason for the action.
“It’s not a political decision,” Lujan Grisham said. “It’s the right time for us. We are conquering COVID and we’ll keep doing that.”
The governor is up for reelection in November and had been facing surmounting pressure to reconsider the mask mandate for public spaces as more state and local leaders previously lifted their requirements.
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Speaking at a White House briefing on Wednesday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that the government is contemplating a change to its mask guidance in the coming weeks.
The administration and public health leaders have said they are cautiously optimistic about the number of falling cases and hospitalizations, though daily deaths have remained high.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.