Could we see a mask mandate as flu, RSV, COVID circulate?
Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 numbers have the county teetering on the brink of bringing back an indoor mask mandate next month.
And on the other end of the West Coast, 13 local health leaders in Washington have now issued a recommendation to mask up inside.
At this point, no mask mandates have been issued, but that does not mean they could not happen.
Local health departments do have the authority to issue a mask mandate, though any such mandate would largely be without teeth.
“Technically, local health jurisdictions can enact mandates, but there’s no enforcement for those mandates,” said Snohomish County Health Officer James Lewis, M.D.
The Washington State Superintendent’s Office cannot issue a statewide mask mandate for schools, but individual districts can make any masking requirements that they like.
On a statewide basis, the Washington State Department of Health has the authority to issue a mask mandate across Washington. The DOH already requires masking in health care and long-term care facilities, as well as correctional centers. The department told KIRO Newsradio in an email that it currently has no plans to bring back a statewide mandate.
Lewis said he would prefer to have a mask mandate start at the state level rather than the county level to remove ambiguity. However, he is not against the idea of a county mask mandate.
“It’s not something that we’re actively considering at the moment, but it’s certainly not something that’s completely off the table,” Lewis said.
Lewis said it is a good idea to have a mask on at the grocery store and at school. Especially this time of year, if you are going out to any holiday events, shopping for gifts, or attending parties, he also suggests you bring out that mask.
“There’s this idea of LA potentially bringing back mask mandates, which I’m open to if that needs to happen,” Lewis continued. “But ultimately, what I would love to see is it just becomes a non-political issue, and people just decide for their own safety, and the safety of others, that when there’s a lot of flu going around, or RSV, or COVID, or any number of other respiratory viruses, that they wear a mask when they go out, especially if they feel a little bit off.”
While COVID was the reason for the past mask mandates, it is the flu that has Lewis most worried — especially as people get ready to get together with elderly loved ones over the holidays.
“The primary virus you should be concerned about at the given moment is the flu … RSV second, and COVID is certainly still a big concern,” he said.
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King County Public Health tells KIRO Newsradio it has no current plans for a mandate, but it is monitoring the situation and talking to partner health agencies in case things change.
Equally important to masking is getting your COVID bivalent booster and your flu shot. Lewis said the Snohomish Health District is seeing fewer people getting flu shots this year — as the CDC reports flu hospitalizations are hitting a 10-year high.