Several local health officers from across the Puget Sound region announced Monday, July 26, 2021 that they are joining together to recommend that everyone wear facial coverings when in indoor public settings where vaccination status is unknown.

The recommendation from several local health jurisdictions underscores that wearing a mask is an effective and simple measure that people can take to add an extra layer of protection for themselves and their community at a time when rates of COVID-19 are increasing in the region and around the country.

COVID-19 rates are increasing across the region largely due to the spread of the more contagious delta variant. Higher levels of delta increase the risk for all of us. Wearing a high-quality, well-fitting face mask is a simple and effective way to reduce risk for our community.

In King County, similar to other parts of the region and country, COVID-19 rates are on the rise, largely due to the spread of the more contagious delta variant and increasing activities as restrictions have been lifted.

On Monday, Dr. Jeff Duchin issued an updated health officer directive for King County to reflect the new guidance that strongly recommends people wear masks in indoor public settings. Universal masking in indoor public spaces provides a more reliable way to ensure everyone is safer as we monitor the current increasing disease trends. This 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.

The joint statement issued today by several local health officers underscores the importance of masking as an extra layer of protection:

Health officials recommend everyone wears face masks in indoor public spaces 1

“The health officers of King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson, San Juan, and Grays Harbor counties have joined together to pass on their best public health advice to protect you, your family, and our communities. We recommend all residents wear facial coverings when in indoor public settings where the vaccination status of those around you is unknown. 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.

Vaccinations are our best defense against COVID-19 and are safe, effective, and readily available for everyone age 12 and over. Please get yours immediately if you are not already vaccinated.”

As Dr. Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, stated in his public briefing last Friday (paraphrased),

“The delta variant presents a significant new threat, but we have great tools at our disposal to fight COVID-19. Most important are our vaccines, which continue to do an excellent job of what they’re intended to do – prevent serious illness. But, until we’re further down the road, and in a safer and more stable place, it makes sense to continue to take advantage of layering effective measures to reduce our risk. Wearing a mask in indoor public settings where not everyone is known to be vaccinated is easy, effective, provides an extra layer of protection for all, and allows us to more safely get back to doing the things we want to do and need to do.”

Washington State already requires unvaccinated people to wear masks in indoor public settings, although in stores and other public spaces, there is no practical way to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t. For this reason, universal masking in indoor public spaces provides a more reliable way to ensure everyone is safer as we monitor the current increasing disease trends.

Masking in public spaces is also beneficial for those who are in close contact with someone at increased risk, to model mask-wearing for children, and to protect from other respiratory illnesses or allergens.

Vaccination and masks: two critical layers of protection to keep us safe
The vast majority of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths occur in unvaccinated people. Vaccination is the single most important thing people can do to protect themselves and those in the community. But no vaccine provides 100% protection; a small percentage of vaccinated people may develop COVID-19 and be able to pass the infection to others, although this is much less likely than for unvaccinated people. When vaccinated people do become infected, their illness is typically not serious.

Wearing a mask in indoor public spaces helps protect us all, including those who are unable to be protected by the vaccine, such as the 300,000 children in King County who aren’t able to get vaccinated yet, and the many thousands of people who have immune systems that are weakened or suppressed.

In addition to masking, improving airflow and ventilation in public spaces are critical steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 indoors. COVID-19 builds up in closed spaces as infected people breathe, and the risk increases where people are singing, shouting, or exercising, and with closer contact and longer exposure.

Windows and doors should be opened whenever possible to maximize the movement of air. Building and business owners should evaluate their HVAC systems to increase outside airflow, upgrade filtration where possible and consider the need for portable HEPA filtration.

Public Health – Seattle & King County also reminds the public that if you have even mild symptoms, whether or not you’re vaccinated, get a COVID-19 test and quarantine yourself away from others while you wait for your results. Information on where to get tested for COVID-19 is available at King County’s COVID-19 testing webpage.

For more info, visit https://kingcounty.gov/depts/health.aspx