King County is formally lifting its mask mandate Tuesday, which means fully vaccinated residents are free to shed face coverings when outdoors and in most indoor spaces.
The county has repealed the mandate now that it has reached its goal of having 70% of local eligible residents fully vaccinated on June 15 — triggering a two-week countdown. The mandate also ends before the state is expected to lift COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday. Washington is among the few states in the country with coronavirus restrictions still in place.
The local directive urged those age 5 and older to continue wearing a mask in indoor public spaces, unless the establishment used a “state-approved method” to assure people inside were fully vaccinated. It was issued late May, after the federal Centers for Disease Control and the Washington Department of Health relaxed its mask guidance to allow fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks outdoors and in most indoor settings.
Without a local mandate, it means that Washington state’s mask guidance is now in effect in King County.
People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they get both shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or the one dose of Johnson & Johnson.
Both state and federal guidelines say those who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks indoors and everyone should continue to wear masks in certain high-risk and crowded spaces like schools, health care facilities, jails and on public transit.
But just because people can shed their masks, does not mean everyone is ready to do so.
Nervous about losing the mask?
The Seattle Times recently asked readers how they feel about masks a year after the start of the pandemic, and how they would feel without one. More than 50 people responded.
Some said masks make it hard to breathe. David Bowman, 68, said he hates wearing a mask, calling them a nuisance that makes it hard to see his feet, which makes it easier to trip. But he said he knows masks have been important in preventing airborne illnesses.
Several readers said they have missed being able to connect with people and seeing facial expressions. “Being able to smile at babies again is the best! I simply love seeing people’s faces again,” said Brigette Quichocho, 46.
Others said they will continue to mask up because they feel like they’re protecting others.
“Wearing my mask indoors is a way I can say “I love you” to people,” said Tim Bailey, 41, of Mountlake Terrace.
Those who will hold on to their masks said they still feel uneasy in crowded outdoor settings or in spaces where there might be unvaccinated people. The CDC guidelines say being indoors with unvaccinated people is OK for fully vaccinated people.
If someone is nervous about going maskless despite being vaccinated, it’s because they are human, said Hilary Godwin, dean of University of Washington’s School of Public Health.
For the last year, people have been dealing with a high level of uncertainty and stress, but also consistent messaging that masks are necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Of course, it’s going to be strange — and possibly anxiety-inducing — to suddenly stop wearing a mask, she said.
Godwin said there are two things are markedly different from last March: There is a vaccine. And there is data that shows it is effective in preventing someone from spreading the virus. But just because that’s true, she said, does not mean someone is ready to return to pre-pandemic life.
“One of my students said it best: ‘I’m not reacting as a public health person right now, I’m just reacting emotionally,'” Godwin said.
Godwin’s advice for those still worried? Keep it on as long as you want. The mask still feels like a security blanket, even to her.
When the country transitioned to social distancing and virtual learning and meetings, that had to be done quickly to save lives, she said. Now there’s no urgency to transition back.
“None of us are our best selves, myself included,” she said. “So we all sort of need to give each other and ourselves some grace as we move forward into the next stage.”