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Washington’s new mask mandate takes effect Monday

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee puts on a mask after speaking at a news conference, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. The governor expanded the statewide indoor mask mandate in place for non-vaccinated individuals to include those who are vaccinated, beginning Monday.   (Ted S. Warren)

Washington residents will be required to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, beginning Monday.

A masking order issued by Washington Secretary of Health Umair Shah will be in effect indefinitely as COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in the state with the prevalence of the delta variant of the coronavirus. All residents over the age of 5 must wear masks indoors or face a potential criminal misdemeanor, according to the order.

The order includes exemptions for those alone indoors, at small indoor gatherings or those actively eating and drinking. The order does not extend to outdoor settings, though the state Department of Health recommends wearing masks at crowded outdoor events, such as concerts, fairs or sporting events.

Washington’s previous mask mandate for vaccinated residents ended May 17. Since then, case counts and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have met or surpassed previous periods in the pandemic, including a surge in the early months of 2021.

“We loosened the masking requirements at a time when our vaccination rate was growing quite rapidly, and when our case counts were dropping quite rapidly,” Gov. Jay Inslee said last week, when announcing the new mask requirement. “But unfortunately, now, both our case counts and our hospitalizations are exploding.”

Spokane County recorded more than 1,900 cases of COVID-19 for the week ending Friday, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.

As of Friday, 160 people were hospitalized in Spokane County with COVID-19.