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UW study looks to track and record mask wearing across King County

Washington residents are required to wear masks in public at all times. (MyNorthwest photo)

Mask-wearing is required statewide, but The Seattle Times reports that student volunteers from the University of Washington will park outside of supermarkets, big stores like Costco and Target, convenience stores, parks, transit stations, and Sea-Tac Airport to observe if people are actually following the mandate.

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They’ll look at who is wearing masks and how they’re wearing them, for example, if it fully covers the nose and mouth. People will be categorized by gender and age, and no one will be photographed, recorded, or asked for any identifying information.

UW volunteers plan to collect data across all of King County, including Shoreline, Tukwila, North Bend, and more. The study is being sponsored by the Washington State Department of Health, with hopes of applying the template to other counties wishing to conduct research on mask use.

Snohomish County may already have a leg up itself, though, having already conducted its own mask study in September. In that instance, 10 volunteers stationed themselves at 37 locations across the region, and made 3,500 observations of people with or without masks in commercial settings, transit centers, and urban parks.

Volunteers in that study noticed more men than women return to their cars to get a mask before entering a commercial location. Most people wore masks into grocery stores. In Monroe, observers noted great mask compliance as people entered big box stores.

It was also noticed that more people at the transit center wore masks during the evening commute. In the morning, more people were smoking, vaping, and drinking coffee while waiting.

In total, the Snohomish County study observed between 73% and 96% compliance at transit centers, and between 67% and 71% at urban parks.

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The UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has been tracking larger scale mask use both in Washington and across the globe since late April. After a brief dip in September that saw Washington move into the 40-49% range for people who say they always wear a mask when going out, the state ticked back up to the 50-59% bracket toward the end of that month.

Washington continued its ascension in October, moving into the 70-94% range in early October, where it has held strong as of Nov. 17 (the last recorded data from the IHME).

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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