As mask mandate returns, delta variant now makes up 98% of state’s COVID cases
Gov. Jay Inslee announced a new statewide indoor mask mandate this week, set to take effect Aug. 23. While several factors played into that decision, the largest concern for health officials continues to be the highly contagious delta variant.
According to state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah, an estimated 98% of Washington’s recent COVID-19 infections can be traced back to the variant strain, having doubled in prevalence every seven to 10 days since it first appeared.
“This is a game changer,” Dr. Shah cautioned during Wednesday’s press conference announcing the new mask directive. “Delta variant is here and we need to do whatever we can to slow things down.”
That’s seen Washington’s seven-day rolling average for COVID cases reach similar levels to what the state saw during the peak of last winter’s surge, currently sitting around an estimated 2,700 new cases per day. Hospitalizations have trended up in kind — at the peak of the winter surge, the state’s rolling daily average topped out around 115 per day. As of early August, Washington had reached 107 and has continued to climb since.
The hope is that by bringing back indoor masking rules, the state can slow this trend in time for more people to get vaccinated, which he points out is still “the long term solution.”
“The action we’re taking today is to stem the tide,” Shah said. “When you put a mask requirement in place, what we’re saying to people is pay attention, the delta variant is real, and we’re very concerned about this.”
Gov. Inslee echoed that sentiment as well, pointing to increasing rates of infections in children.
“This isn’t your grandpa’s illness anymore,” he noted.
Washington’s mandate will require masks in all public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status. While they won’t be required in crowded outdoor settings like concerts, fairs, and farmers markets, the state Department of Health still “strongly recommends” them in those scenarios.
There will be limited exceptions when face coverings won’t be required, such as office spaces not easily accessible to the public where individuals are vaccinated, and when working alone indoors, or in a vehicle with no public face-to-face interaction. Small, private indoor gatherings where all attendees are vaccinated are also exempt.