King County urges the continued use of masks while the state loosens restrictions

King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin issued a directive Thursday that urges residents to continue wearing masks in indoor public settings. 

 

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The directive comes after Washington State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said Wednesday in a tweet that “fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most situations.”

Shah’s statement aligns with the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance which says:

“Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

Shah’s comments do not align with the views of Duchin. In a tweet Tuesday, Duchin said:

“The time will come when mask mandates are no longer necessary for everyone, for now let’s stick with what’s working while more are vaccinated & CoV-19 disease rates fall. To help us all get back to normal ASAP, get vaccinated.”

In Thursday’s directive, Duchin stresses that it’s important for everyone to wear a mask because businesses have no way to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t.

“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. 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.”

Duchin says he wants to wait until at least 70% of King County residents are vaccinated before updating the directive. The county predicts this threshold will be met in late June. 

On Friday, the State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) updated the state COVID-19 workplace safety and health guidance. In their updated guidance they said:

    • “Fully vaccinated employees do not have to wear a mask or socially distance at work, unless their employer still requires it.
    • Before ending mask and social distance requirements, employers must confirm workers are fully vaccinated —by having the worker either sign a document attesting to their status or provide proof of vaccination.
    • Employers must be able to demonstrate they have verified vaccination status for workers who are not masked or physically distanced. Verifications methods may include: 
      • Creating a log of workers who have verified they’ve been vaccinated and the date of verification,
      • Checking vaccination status each day as workers enter a jobsite, or
      • Marking a worker’s badge or credential to show that they are vaccinated.”

L&I also stated that employers may continue to require mask use if they choose, and must allow employees to continue to mask up. However, if an employee is not vaccinated or their vaccination status is unknown, employers must continue to require masks and social distancing. 

Patty Hayes, Director for Public Health — Seattle & King County, said in a news release:

“King County has done remarkably well compared to other parts of the U.S. throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and although we are beginning the transition towards fewer mandates and more personal decision making, we need to continue doing what’s been working for us for a bit longer.”

Although the CDC updated it’s guidance, both CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and the Washington State Department of Health have also noted that ending indoor mask mandates should be linked to local circumstances.