On Tuesday, June 29, Public Health Seattle & King County (PHSKC) officially lifted its mask directive that strongly advises all residents to keep their faces covered indoors, including restaurants, whether fully vaccinated or not. PHSKC’s directive was more strict that the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said fully vaccinated people could resume certain indoor activities unmasked, leading to some confusion. But the county kept the guidance in place until two weeks after the county had hit the 70 percent fully vaccinated mark. The milestone occurs one day before Washington state is due to lift most COVID restrictions.
This doesn’t mean that it’s a free-for-all when it comes to mask wearing, though. Right now, the mask guidance from Washington state’s department of health takes effect, which still requires unvaccinated people to wear face coverings in indoor settings and advises everyone (vaccinated or not) to continue masking up in certain indoor settings, such as hospitals, doctor’s offices, and schools with unvaccinated children.
Washington state’s guidance also notes to “respect the room you’re in,” which means that if a business still has a mask mandate in effect, they still have the right to refuse service. Though around 71 percent of King County residents 16 years of age or older have received two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer shot (or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine), there’s still a significant portion of the population that has not been vaccinated.
Some restaurants, such as Archipelago in Hillman City, Addo in Ballard, and Capitol Hill bar CC Attle’s, require proof of vaccination for entry, which mitigates the risk for unmasked dining. And many more have kept their mask mandates in place up until now for all diners, even though the King County directive was not legally binding. Now that the local directive has been lifted, Seattle restaurants don’t have the cover of a county-wide mandate to enforce a blanket business policy, since there aren’t a lot of practical ways to check for vaccination status, particularly for walk-in customers.
With the presence of the Delta variance of COVID, many public health authorities, including the World Health Organization, continue to urge caution when it comes to masks, regardless of vaccination status. And it’s likely local diners feel the same way. In a May Eater Seattle survey, the majority of respondents said they were still not dining out, even after being fully vaccinated. Given how cautious local officials have been to this point, should COVID cases spike again, it probably wouldn’t be out of the question to see a mask directive put back in place.