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Pierce County pushes residents to mask up, hoping to avoid return to Phase 1

(Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Facebook)

Friday, June 26, was the first day of the governor and secretary of health’s public health order requiring all residents of Washington state to wear masks or face coverings in public settings. In recent weeks, cases of COVID-19 have been on the rise statewide, and masking up is just one preventative measure to help slow the spread of the virus.

Nigel Turner, director of the Communicable Disease Control division for Pierce County, joined the Gee & Ursula Show to talk about steps everyone can take to protect themselves, and their community.

“We’ve seen an increase in cases over the last few days,” Turner said “… The numbers have bounced around over the last couple of months, but this recent increase is something that’s concerning to us.”

Turner said the increase seems to be a result of changes that happened when Pierce County moved to Phase 2, as everyone was looking forward to reduced restrictions.

“Maybe people have kind of gone a bit too far in terms of of increasing social interactions,” he said.

Based on the case data, Turner says there hasn’t been a specific or single cause that led to the rise in  cases. Each case is investigated, he added, to determine risk factors.

“Generally, I think our conclusion is it’s more to do with just increased social interaction over time,” he said. “That’s why we want people to take take steps to protect themselves, protect the community by increasing social distancing, staying at least six feet apart, and masking is a really important part of that moving forward.”

Early in the pandemic, the CDC had said masks were not recommended, but that advice later changed to show that face coverings are able to prevent spread of COVID-19. This miscommunication could contribute to some people’s hesitation to wearing masks.

“We’re learning a lot more about what works to prevent [coronavirus], and there really is solid data to show that wearing masks in public is a helpful measure that helps reduce transmission in the community,” Turner said. “And it’s important because it’s all about when I wear a mask, I’m protecting other people. If you wear a mask, you’re protecting me.”

“It’s something that really can make a difference, not just for the health of your immediate people, but to people in the community who are very much at risk from from complications of COVID-19, … the elderly and [people with] underlying conditions,” he added. “So really it is a way of showing that you care, and a practical way of helping to protect the health of our community.”

Recently, Dr. Anthony Chen with Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department wrote that the county’s grip on Phase 2 is slipping and there’s a chance the county could move backward.

“The numbers there are currently heading in the wrong direction, and we can’t guarantee what’s going to happen in the future,” Turner agreed. “And I think there’s actually a very real opportunity to make a difference about the future trend.”

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If cases keep increasing, Turner says implementing tighter restrictions may be necessary, but health officials don’t want that to happen anymore than the public does.

“That’s why we all have a role to play in reducing these numbers,” he said. “We talked about reducing social distancing, minimizing large gatherings, keeping the groupings that you have to your immediate social group, and groupings less than five people. But other steps as well, the amount of hand washing that happens, the amount of people that are staying home when they have symptoms, the amount of testing that happens in the community, this is all part of our overall strategy that’s needed as a community to help us control disease and bring those numbers down.”

“We certainly don’t want to go back to Phase 1,” he added. “I think we’re at a critical phase now where we can put in place things that will keep us moving forward.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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