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Wear a mask, King County health official advises as COVID cases rise, variant spreads

Elaine Thompson
The Associated Press file
The Statue of Liberty at Seattle's Alki Beach dons a mask in August 2020.

Updated at 5:05 p.m.: The top public health official in Washington's most populous county is asking everyone to wear masks in indoor public spaces because of the rise of the COVID-19 delta variant — even if they have been vaccinated.

Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer at Public Health – Seattle & King County, made the recommendation Friday.

Washington state’s top epidemiologist, Dr. Scott Lindquist, is urging people to use common sense and to try to not be in places with poor ventilation but is not issuing a statewide mask recommendation for vaccinated people.

Lindquist said Friday there are discussions about a broader recommendation, but at this point the state is comfortable with local health officials making such decisions.

The state Department of Health reports that about 350 people statewide are hospitalized with COVID-19, which is roughly half the figure for earlier waves of the pandemic.

Washington state's population is about 7.65 million.

Duchin said a factor driving up cases and leading to the indoor masking recommendation is the changing habits of people who stopped masking when a public indoor masking mandate was lifted June 30, and people started gathering indoors and resumed traveling.

Duchin said his statement was a recommendation, not a mandate.

“The level of vaccination we have achieved in King County will protect us from a severe outbreak that would threaten our health care system,” he said. “On the other hand, all of us need to be aware of the risk that the delta variant poses.”

More than 70% of county residents 16 and holder have been fully vaccinated.

The county’s seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents has increased to 41 from 19 on June 29, Duchin said.