Eight Washington counties recommend face masks as COVID-19 cases rise

Eight Washington counties recommend face masks as COVID-19 cases rise

July 30, 2021 0 By Tim Gruver

People in eight Washington counties west of the Cascades are being told to don face masks again as the state holds its breath on more rule changes.

Since Washington fully reopened on June 30, Washington Department of Health (DOH) guidelines have recommended unvaccinated people continue to wear face masks indoors at all times. That guidance is being applied to everyone no matter their vaccination status in King, Kitsap, Pierce, Jefferson, San Juan, Snohomish, Clallam and Grays Harbor counties as of last Thursday.

The new guidelines fall in line with revised CDC guidance released on Tuesday to that effect. Federal guidelines have long stated that unvaccinated people should wear face masks in schools, federal facilities, hospitals and while riding public transportation. They now also recommend people vaccinated against COVID-19 should be masked at all times in counties they say substantial transmission is occurring.

In lieu of an executive order from Gov. Jay Inslee or President Joe Biden, none of Washington’s new mask guidelines are law. The shift in tone among public health officials underscores the rising wave of COVID cases in the state and the vaccine lottery’s minimal impact on statewide vaccinations rates.

The first week of July saw a 7-day average of 370 cases statewide, 709 cases by the week after and 795 cases by the third week of July or a 46% increase. Total deaths from the virus rose by 61 people statewide or a 2% increase bringing the death toll to date from 6,007 to 6,068. In addition, hospitalizations are up by 2% or marking 458 more patients in the first two weeks of July.

While the data indicates increased spread of COVID-19, the scope of transmission is a fraction of what it was in 2020. 

Inslee has continued to recommend wearing face masks indoors, though he has resumed in-person news conferences with the media. The DOH reports this week that 61.4% of Washingtonians ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated or 52.3% of the state’s total population. As of Monday, the DOH reported 96% of people hospitalized with COVID were unvaccinated.

Public health officials stress that vaccines mitigate symptoms, not transmission.

More concerning to public health officials is the rise in the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19. First discovered in India, the variant makes up 31.8% of all new cases among young Washington adults ages 20 to 34. King, Benton, Yakima and Snohomish counties see the highest rates of new delta variant cases despite King’s 80% vaccination rate. Nationwide, the variant accounts for 83% of all new cases.

Washington Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah, MD, has advised Washingtonians to mask up and to be prepared to do so for the long-term.

“Even though the economic reopening represents a return to a more normal life for people who are vaccinated, masks will still be part of daily life for many,” Shah said. “Masks will still need to be in your car, your pocket, your backpack – they’ll still be a part of your life as we start to transition into this new phase of recovery.”

Some labor leaders are worried about what another potential mask order could mean for employees tasked with enforcing one. 

“It’s always going to be an employee and you’re never going to have a manager at the door trying to police this thing,” said David Groves, the communications director for the Washington Labor Council. “What we’ve seen over the past few years is that that can sometimes blow up into a confrontation that puts worker safety in jeopardy.”

Washington has seen 430,103 confirmed cases of COVID since the onset of the pandemic, according to DOH data.

This article was originally posted on Eight Washington counties recommend face masks as COVID-19 cases rise