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Some Washington counties recommend mask use indoors for vaccinated people

UPDATED: Mon., July 26, 2021

Eight Washington counties have issued mask recommendations for indoor spaces in hopes of slowing the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus. The recommendations have not been adopted in Spokane County.  (Peter Hamlin)
Eight Washington counties have issued mask recommendations for indoor spaces in hopes of slowing the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus. The recommendations have not been adopted in Spokane County. (Peter Hamlin)

OLYMPIA – Don’t put those masks away just yet.

Some local health jurisdictions in Western Washington are recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask as COVID-19 variants spread.

Following Friday’s recommendation from King County’s top public health official that everyone wear masks again indoors, eight Western Washington counties issued a joint statement Monday urging the continuous use of masks.

The health officers of King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson, San Juan and Grays Harbor are now recommending “all residents wear facial coverings when in indoor public settings where the vaccination status of those around you is unknown.” Specifically, a statement from Snohomish County mentioned grocery or retail stores, theaters and family entertainment centers.

Doing so will help reduce the risk of COVID-19 and decrease the spread of the “highly contagious delta variant,” according to the statement .

As of Monday, the Spokane Regional Health District had not released any similar recommendations or requirements on mask wearing for vaccinated people.

Kelli Hawkins, spokesperson for the Spokane Regional Health District, said the district is keeping the eyes on the numbers but has no plan for masks yet.

Wearing masks indoors, even if vaccinated, could be helpful, especially for people who are unsure of the vaccination status of those around them, Hawkins said.

“It’s not a bad idea,” she said. “It’s a personal choice.”

Hawkins said she did not know at what point the county would want to reinstate a mask recommendation or mandate.

Last week, the state’s top epidemiologist said the state was entering its fifth wave of the pandemic as the delta variant quickly spreads. About 58% of the latest samples of the virus were delta variant cases, state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said. On Friday, he said state health officials weren’t in a place yet to reinstate statewide requirements.

The statewide mask mandate is still in place, but it only requires those who are not vaccinated to wear masks at all times indoors. Those who are vaccinated are not required to wear masks in most indoor settings. Exceptions include schools, hospitals, correctional facilities and public transportation.

Mike Faulk, spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee, said in an email Monday that there is not currently any movement at a state level toward reinstating a mask requirement for everyone.

Current CDC guidance still says those who have been fully vaccinated to resume most activities without wearing a mask, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CNN on Sunday that recommending mask wearing for fully vaccinated people is “under active consideration” by top health officials.

Some local jurisdictions nationally have already reinstated mask requirements. Los Angeles County announced earlier this month it would require masks indoors, even for those fully vaccinated. St. Louis and St. Louis County adopted similar requirements last week.

Local health jurisdictions in Washington always have the authority to instate health protocols stricter than the state’s requirements, Faulk said.

Lindquist said he is comfortable with counties being more stringent if cases in those areas warrant it.

“There are some counties that haven’t had cases and it seems a bit extreme for those local health officers,” he said.

If cases rise in some counties, however, more recommendations on mask-wearing could come, Lindquist said.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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