Snohomish County’s health officer Tuesday announced the return of an indoor masking mandate for all residents ages 5 and up, making the county one of the first in Washington to bring back the widespread directive.
Dr. Chris Spitters said during a news conference that the mandate comes after the county’s COVID-19 cases doubled in the past three weeks.
“Our situation continues to be alarming in Snohomish County,” Spitters said.
The directive includes retail, grocery and government buildings, in addition to any other public, indoor spaces. It does not apply to outdoor spaces, though Spitters encouraged people to continue masking outside.
The mandate, a requirement regardless of vaccination status, will go into effect on Thursday.
Last week, the county counted more than 600 close contacts with someone COVID-positive in child-care facilities. At least 15 long-term care facilities in the county have at least one confirmed case, and hospitals are looking after at least 62 hospitalized COVID patients, including four on “mechanical ventilation,” he said.
The total cases reported in the past two weeks corresponds to a two-week rate of 280 cases per 100,000 people, he said, exceeding Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s threshold for a “high-transmission county.”
“We really need to be thinking vaccination and masking in public, versus vaccination or masking,” he added.
Widespread mask mandates were largely put on hold over the summer, after Gov. Jay Inslee lifted most COVID-19 restrictions in June. Some mask requirements stayed in place for those who aren’t vaccinated and are working indoors.
In late July, eight Western Washington counties, including Snohomish, issued a joint statement recommending people wear masks in indoor public places.
The joint statement said county officials had come together on the issue of indoor masking to better protect “our communities.”
A statewide masking mandate, Spitters said Tuesday, would help tamp down increases in COVID-19 infections. But that decision, he said, is up to state officials.
On Monday, Inslee said further actions on masks may be taken if cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.
“We are not making a requirement to that regard … but people need to understand this is a wily beast we’re fighting,” he said. “And I can tell you if these trends continue, we will have to take further actions, of one dimension or another, to restrain this pandemic.”
About 54% of the total county population has completed vaccination, according to Spitters. Nearly 250,000 county residents over the age of 12 have not yet been vaccinated, while 125,000 children under 12 are not eligible for the vaccine.
“Our No. 1 goal has been to save lives along the way, and I guess it’s a little frustrating that we have a way to do that. It’s pretty simple, it’s a vaccine,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said Tuesday.
Somers said the county is reviewing Inslee’s Monday announcement of a sweeping vaccine mandate for state employees, as well as similar measures from King County and Seattle.
“We’re taking careful advisement … but have not made that call yet,” he said.