King County issues directive urging continued use of face masks indoors
King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin issued a local health officer directive that “strongly urges” all residents to keep wearing a face mask in indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status.
The directive notes that local COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates are decreasing but are still at elevated levels. For that reason, Dr. Duchin urges all residents, vaccinated or not, to temporarily continue wearing face masks when indoors and in public.
“Continued use of face masks for everyone five years of age and older within indoor public spaces is reasonable and necessary in King County to reduce the risk for COVID-19 transmission until more of the population is protected through vaccination and COVID-19 disease rates decline,” the Directive states.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its own guidance to allow fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks in many settings. Washignton state is adopting that guidance, but left it up to each county to choose whether or not to enforce more strict rules based on the local circumstances and COVID-19 case rates.
The Washington State Department of Health is still requiring masks to be worn in schools, on public transportation, and in homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and health care settings statewide.
“Some may wonder why they should wear a mask if they are vaccinated, especially since we agree that COVID-19 vaccines give high protection against infection and spreading the virus, and unvaccinated people are the ones at risk to acquire and spread COVID-19. It’s because we have no way to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t, and it’s impractical for businesses to determine that,” Duchin said.
“If unvaccinated people do not wear masks, the risk for COVID-19 spread increases. From a practical and community health perspective, the most reliable way to ensure everyone is safe is for everyone to wear a face mask in indoor public spaces for a few more weeks, until we get vaccination rates higher and disease rates lower,” he added.
The King County directive will remain in effect until 70% or more of residents age 16 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It’s currently projected the county will reach that threshold in late June.
Businesses are asked to voluntarily comply with this directive, including grocery and other retail establishments, and to ensure that customers and employees wear face masks.
Public Health — Seattle & King County says they took a number of factors into consideration for this directive, including that while vaccination rates in the county are leading the nation, large segments of the population are not yet fully vaccinated. There are also a number of people with certain health conditions who don’t have have the option of getting vaccinated and “rely instead on us as a community to protect them,” and the department points out that children 12-15 years of age and young adults only recently became eligible for vaccination.