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CDC recommends everyone wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status in high-transmission counties

By Arielle Dreher and Laurel Demkovich The Spokesman-Review

Vaccinated or not, it’s likely time to pull that mask back out.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending people wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status, especially if they are in a county – such as Spokane or Kootenai – where virus transmission is considered substantial or high.

Both Spokane County and Kootenai County have high virus transmission, with more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents confirmed in the last week, according to data from the CDC.

In Spokane County, and Washington state as a whole, case counts are increasing. Spokane County’s current case rate is 146 cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks.

On Tuesday alone there were 108 new COVID-19 cases and one death. Hospitals in Spokane reported 42 patients receiving treatment.

Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez reiterated his recommendation that community members wear masks indoors in public, especially when you are unsure whether those around you are vaccinated.

“Today, as our case rates trend upwards, we strongly urge people to consider wearing masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status, in order to protect yourself, to protect those around you, and to allow our community to continue moving forward,” Velázquez said in a statement.

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward expressed concern that requiring even vaccinated people to wear masks indoors will dissuade people from receiving the vaccine, which she said needs to be a continued focus.

Woodward met with Velázquez on Monday and, based on that conversation, expects indoor masking to remain a recommendation and not a mandate.

The CDC changed the masking recommendation due to new data that found fully vaccinated people who test positive for the delta variant can spread the virus to others.

“In rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others; this new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, told reporters Tuesday.

The local health officer has the authority to issue a countywide mask mandate, as does the state health officer.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers released a statement with similar feelings to Woodward’s, saying the new guidance “deeply undermines vaccine confidence.”

“Mask mandates for more command and control will not build trust – only resentment,” her statement read.

She also criticized the recommendation to require masks in schools, citing harms to kids’ mental health.

“The overall well-being of our kids must be a priority,” she said.

About a third of counties in Washington have high transmission rates, while another third have substantial transmission rates according to the CDC.

Neither Washington nor Idaho currently have a mask mandate for vaccinated people, but eight Western Washington counties issued a joint statement Monday recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors.

Washington’s statewide mask mandate is still in place, but it currently 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, where masks are required for everyone regardless of vaccination status.

Mike Faulk, spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee, wrote in an email Tuesday the governor’s office is reviewing the CDC’s new guidance and will likely have more to say Wednesday.

Similarly, the Department of Health declined to share any response or information about the new CDC recommendations, noting there would likely be more to share Wednesday.

The CDC also recommended all teachers, staff, students and visitors wear masks inside K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, but the new guidance for schools likely won’t affect Washington much.

The current Department of Health mask mandate and school guidance, last updated on July 6, requires all school personnel, students and visitors to wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status. Some exceptions apply to those under 2 years old, those with a disability and those with respiratory conditions.

In Idaho, most school districts have lifted mask mandates, making them optional for vaccinated students and encouraged for unvaccinated ones.

Here’s a look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 108 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday and one additional death.

There have been 682 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are 42 people hospitalized with the virus in Spokane.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 57 new COVID-19 cases and no new additional deaths.

There are 29 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

S-R Reporter Adam Shanks contributed to this report.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories 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.

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.