Rising cases of COVID-19 coupled with the emergence of the highly infectious delta variant have prompted health officers from eight Western Washington counties to recommend mask-wearing in indoor public spaces.
Health officials from the counties, which include Snohomish, King and Pierce, recommend all people, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks when in indoor public places. King County’s health officer, Dr. Jeff Duchin, first issued the this guidance Friday, but now officials in Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, Clallam, San Juan, Grays Harbor and Jefferson counties have done the same.
The joint statement from the counties said they have come together on the issue of indoor masking to better protect “our communities.”
“This step will help reduce the risk of COVID-19 to the public, including customers and workers, help stem the increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in many parts of the state and decrease the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant,” the joint statement said.
The state Department of Health’s latest sequencing and variants report shows the delta variant accounts for 57.5% of cases that have been genotyped, a jump from the previous report that pegged the variant at 27.5%.
The guidance from the eight counties is only a recommendation, one that wasn’t taken lightly, said Snohomish Health District’s health officer Chris Spitters, but if things get worse, state officials might be asked to do something.
“I think if we continue to see increasing cases and hospitalizations we would look to our state partners to strengthen the will behind this effort that we’re trying to get started here in the counties in and around Puget Sound,” Spitters said during a Monday press briefing.
State health officials have discussed masking in public indoor spaces but aren’t making the same recommendation. The state’s epidemiologist, Dr. Scott Lindquist, said state officials support local jurisdictions doing more.
The Snohomish Health District recorded 28 outbreaks between July 1 and July 20. Between July 1 and July 17, 42 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and five people died.
People getting out more as COVID-19 restrictions and mandates have been lifted helped guide Public Health – Seattle & King County’s decision. People are now doing more activities while taking fewer precautions, Duchin said Friday.
“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 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 mask directive 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.
Even though the coronavirus vaccines offer a high level of protection against severe illnesses that lead to hospitalization, they aren’t 100% effective, and some breakthrough cases happen. The state’s most recent report tracking breakthrough cases, which are when someone who is fully vaccinated gets infected, shows there have been 3,446 such cases since January.
“Even fully vaccinated people can maximize their protection through this added layer of prevention. Protect yourself, protect others. Mask up in public and get vaccinated now,” Spitters said.