King County’s top public health official is recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks again in public indoor settings.
The guidance on Friday comes as the county is experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations related to the disease, driven by the emergence of the delta variant as the dominant variant of concern.
Another factor driving up cases and leading to the indoor masking recommendation is the changing habits of people who stopped masking when a public indoor masking mandate was lifted on June 29, and people started gathering indoors and resumed traveling, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer at Public Health – Seattle & King County.
People are now doing more activities while taking fewer precautions, he said during a Friday press briefing.
“For this reason, universal masking in public indoor spaces provides a more reliable way to ensure everyone is safe as we monitor the increasing disease trends,” he said.
Duchin is urging all residents ages 5 and up to wear a mask in indoor public spaces — the same guidance he gave in May, when frustrated by the federal pronouncement that vaccinated people need not mask up indoors
King County rescinded that directive after reaching its goal of having 70% of local eligible residents fully vaccinated on June 15 — triggering a two-week countdown. The state lifted most of its remaining coronavirus restrictions on June 30.
Duchin said the county’s seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents has increased to 41 from 19 on June 29. The average daily case count has jumped to 141 – a 130% increase in just over three weeks since the county’s mandate was lifted.
This follows nearly two months of decreasing case counts and hospitalizations, which have bumped up from 1 per 100,000 residents on July 7 to 2 per 100,000 as of July 17.
Washington state’s top epidemiologist, Dr. Scott Lindquist, said on Friday the state isn’t making the same masking recommendation as King County, but it is being discussed. He said he isn’t opposed to local jurisdictions doing more.
“Stay tuned this changes quickly,” he said.