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Health officials in 9 Washington counties recommend masking up indoors again

Elaine Thompson
The Associated Press file
Travelers wear masks as they wait for baggage at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Updated at 6:55 p.m.: Health officials in nine western Washington counties are now recommending mask-wearing in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccine status because of a rise in COVID-19 cases and the highly infectious delta variant.

Public Health Seattle & King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin issued the guidance on Friday, and officials in Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson, San Juan and Grays Harbor counties said Monday that they are joining Duchin and King County in this recommendation.

“This step will help reduce the risk of COVID-19 to the public, including customers and workers, help stem the increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in many parts of the state, and decrease the spread of the highly contagious delta variant,” county officials said in the joint statement.

Skagit County Health Officer Howard Leibrand separately made the indoor spaces masking recommendation on Monday, as did officials in Oregon's Multnomah County.

State health officials have talked about masking in public indoor spaces but aren’t currently making the same recommendation. State’s epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist has said state officials support local jurisdictions' efforts.
Duchin said on Friday that 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.

The extra layer of protection is intended for settings like grocery stores, restaurants, retail, theaters, and entertainment establishments, where people can’t be sure everyone is vaccinated, he said.

“What really matters is whether people know within that setting what the vaccination status of people are or not. If it’s a grocery store, we really don’t know," said Nigel Turner, the division director of communicable disease control at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. "And so that’s why we want to make sure people take the steps they can to protect themselves. We know that masks provide that extra level of protection, both to the vaccinated and the unvaccinated."

While masks help prevent the spread of coronavirus, public health officials say getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself from infection.

KNKX producer Anya Steinberg contributed to this report.

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