Return to mask mandate not in Washington’s ‘best interest’ right now, says state epidemiologist

Apr 15, 2022, 9:40 AM | Updated: 10:26 am
COVID response, mask mandate...
Masking is now optional in most places in Washington. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

Despite COVID-19 cases rising statewide, health officials say that a mask mandate isn’t likely to return anytime time.

King County health officer provides context behind recent rise in COVID cases

Washington’s seven-day rolling average for daily cases as of early April sat around 680, up from the low of 440 the state saw around the time its indoor mask mandate lifted in late March. Despite that recent uptick, though, state epidemiologist Dr. Mike Lindquist says that a return to mandates isn’t “in our best interest.”

“I think what’s pretty clear is the public is pretty tired of mandates, and so I think us (we) really need to use that power judiciously,” he said during a recent edition of “Inside Olympia” on TVW.

Rather than honing in on raw case counts as a measure for when mandates might be necessary again, Lindquist says that the larger focus needs to revolve around deaths and hospitalizations, both of which have remained relatively stable at the state level.

“We need to really measure this on its effect on hospitalizations and deaths, not so much on how many cases we’ve had,” he noted.

For the seven-day period ending on April 4, Washington’s rates of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths both actually hovered around the lowest levels the state has seen since the start of the pandemic.

How new ‘mini wave’ of COVID cases is different from past surges

In the meantime, Lindquist says that the plan moving forward is to have a workgroup look into specific metrics that would determine exactly when Washington would need to reinstate mandates, while taking any such action from a nuanced — potentially region-centric — approach.

That said, he also pointed out that despite ever-evolving mitigation strategies, the state is still a long way from entering into an endemic stage given that case rates have continued to rise and fall in spurts.

“We are so far, months to years, from being able to say we have no more peaks and valleys,” Lindquist described. “For that reason, we are not endemic in Washington state or the United States, or even globally for that matter.”

As for whether the BA.2 sub-variant of omicron is more infectious than its BA.1 predecessor, he says that “the jury is still out.”

“We saw the emergence of BA.2 when our case counts went down, so that really votes against this being more infectious,” he posited.

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Return to mask mandate not in Washington’s ‘best interest’ right now, says state epidemiologist