COVID transmission is at a “high” level in King County, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which now recommends masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
But the public health department in King County, which said Thursday it is considering reinstating a mask mandate, puts the local transmission level slightly lower, based on a more refined set of data.
The CDC calculates its transmission levels based on three factors: new COVID-19 cases in the last week, new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the last week and percent of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
King County has 328 COVID cases, per 100,000 population and 10.1 new admissions per 100,000, according to the CDC. But King County’s own data dashboard, shows lower numbers, with 5.9 new hospital admissions per 100,000, a figure that would classify as “medium” transmission by the CDC’s thresholds.
“Our local hospital rate at any given point may differ from CDC’s because our data quality team removes cases among people who are hospitalized for other reasons, but also have COVID,” James Apa, a spokesperson for Public Health — Seattle & King County said.
According to the CDC, King County is one of 14 Washington counties with high levels of COVID transmission.
Snohomish, Skagit, Thurston, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia, Adams, Lincoln and Spokane counties also have high levels of transmission.
King County health officials said Thursday that they are “actively considering” the return of a mask mandate in the county, as transmission levels are now higher than at the peak of last summer’s delta wave, but still much lower than last winter’s omicron wave.
King County — and the entire state of Washington — were last under a mask mandate in March. Gov. Jay Inslee rescinded it as the omicron wave began to wane. King County’s transmission level at the time was low, by the CDC’s standards.
But the recent rise in transmission nationwide has spurred some jurisdictions to bring back mandates. Los Angeles announced this week that it will reimplement a mask mandate unless transmission numbers fall in the next two weeks. San Diego has brought back a mask mandate for its public schools.
Public health leaders in Washington hope people will voluntarily move toward more cautious behavior, like indoor masking, negating the need for more mandates.
“Please, let’s make sure we’ve done all we can on a voluntary basis before we have to go there,” county health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said Thursday. “We’re not going to be able to have an infinite series of mandates forcing people to do this, that, and the other.”
The higher level of transmission is fueled by the BA.5 omicron subvariant — along with BA.4 the most transmissible form of the virus yet — now the dominant form of the virus in the country.
Health officials continue to urge vaccination and booster shots. Vaccines are free and health insurance is not required.
“The COVID-19 pandemic with the rapid evolution of new variants is challenging us in new ways we did not anticipate, and it requires long-term sustained prevention strategies,” Duchin said. “It’s critical to understand that complacency is not the cure.”