OLYMPIA — Washington will follow current federal guidance for the use of facial coverings amid the COVID-19 pandemic uptick, but won’t impose new masking requirements, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday.
Inslee in a news conference said fully vaccinated people should consider wearing a mask in public indoor spaces in counties deemed by the federal government to have substantial or high transmission of the virus. Most of Washington’s counties at this point fit those criteria.
The governor’s announcement follows new guidelines released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That guidance urged vaccinated Americans to wear facial coverings indoors in certain circumstances, such as in public spaces.
The more transmissible delta variant is widespread here, said Inslee and state health officials, with disease modeling showing it likely accounts for more than 90% of new cases.
The state is essentially entering its fifth COVID-19 wave, Inslee said, and “These numbers are going up dramatically.”
Given the latest virus trends, Inslee additionally urged all state residents to consider wearing masks, regardless of their vaccination status.
“We are recommending statewide, that people consider wearing masks regardless of their vaccination status,” he said, adding later: “This is only a recommendation, it is not a legal requirement.”
Officials are considering a range of actions to increase vaccination rates and could potentially require them for state workers.
“We know we have to increase our vaccinations, that’s a certainty,” Inslee said. “The question is how to do that in a reasonable way.”
As of mid-July, more than 70% of Washington residents 16 and older had gotten at least one shot of the vaccine.
President Joe Biden is expected to announce a similar requirement on Thursday for all employees of the federal government. Meanwhile, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is considering a similar move, her office said.
The Washington Department of Health on Wednesday reported 1,168 new coronavirus cases and 3 new fatalities, bringing the total to 6,100 deaths.
Most Washington counties are considered to have either “high” or “substantial” transmission rates of the virus, according to a CDC map. Those with high rates — the most severe category — include Snohomish, Yakima, Spokane and Douglas counties.
Those with substantial transmission of the virus — the next-highest classification — include King, Pierce, Thurston and Clark counties.
Inslee Wednesday also reiterated that all K-12 students and school employees will be required to wear masks around each other inside their buildings, regardless of whether they are vaccinated.
Unvaccinated people are still required to wear masks at their indoor workplaces.