The new federal mask guidelines saying that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks indoors or outside in most instances should come with an instruction manual.
Since the announcement last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been confusion about what this means for businesses; how will restaurant employees know who is vaccinated and not? The move also raises questions about what local jurisdictions will do.
Gov. Jay Inslee said Washington would follow the federal government’s lead and that the state Department of Health is working on its own guidance.
There have been public health officials and epidemiologists who have questioned the change at this point in the pandemic with many more people needing to be vaccinated to get to a point where community transmission of the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, is significantly blunted.
Earlier this week Public Health — Seattle & King County’s public health officer tweeted that all people, regardless of vaccination status, should continue wearing masks in public indoor spaces. Then Thursday, Public Health issued its own directive.
We answer questions in this week’s FAQ Friday about the federal guidelines and what it means on the local level.
What are the new CDC guidelines for wearing masks?
The federal guidance OKs people who are fully vaccinated — those who are two weeks removed from their second Pfizer or Moderna shot or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine — to ditch masks outdoors, even in crowds, and in most indoor settings.
The CDC still calls for masks to be worn in crowded indoor places like planes, trains, buses, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.
What does the guidance mean locally and how will it be enforced?
Shortly after CDC Director Rochelle Walensky reviewed the changes during a White House press briefing, Inslee said Washington would follow the federal guidance.
On Thursday, Public Health — Seattle & King County issued a directive urging King County residents, fully vaccinated or not, to keep wearing facial coverings in public indoor settings.
The directive also encourages businesses to continue masking policies or implement a system to review vaccination cards or other proof as outlined in the state’s COVID-19 spectator guidelines, before allowing entry.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, of Public Health, again voiced his concerns about the CDC’s move during an Infectious Disease Society of America news briefing Thursday. He said the unexpected announcement led to confusion and needed more context.
“There was no information on how to apply the guidance in practice, particularly related to the inability to verify vaccination status of unmasked people in public settings, or the potential impact of unvaccinated people no longer masking, or the importance of considering circumstances of local COVID-19 activity and vaccination rates when deciding when and how to implement such guidance,” Duchin said.
Local businesses are feeling that confusion, with many planning to still require customers and employees to wear masks.
“I can’t reiterate enough that this is hard and this is confusing,” Andrea Reay, president and CEO of the Seattle Southside Chamber, which includes businesses in South King County, told The Seattle Times this week.
There likely would have been less confusion and anxiety had the CDC tied the change to the number of people vaccinated in a particular jurisdiction, or if the governor tied it to vaccination rates, said Hilary Godwin, dean of the University of Washington’s School of Public Health.
“That’s a great metric at which it’s not just protecting the people who have been vaccinated, but we’re also getting closer to really providing protection for those people who are immunocompromised or can’t get vaccinated,” Godwin said.