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Inslee Recommends All Washingtonians Mask Up, Regardless of Vaccination Status

The governor didn’t issue a new mandates for businesses, but says stronger measures may become necessary if vaccination rates don’t improve in the state

A cloth mask sits on a table next to an empty water glass and ceramic cup
Gov. Jay Inslee wants everyone to “consider” wearing masks inside public places, including restaurants, whether fully vaccinated or not.

On Wednesday, July 28, Gov. Jay Inslee urged Washingtonians: please consider wearing masks inside public places, whether fully vaccinated or not, particularly in regions of the state where vaccination rates are low. The guidance is in line with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently proclaimed due to the continued rise in COVID cases and the prevalence of the more contagious delta variance across the country, along with vaccine hesitancy.

Inslee’s announcement about general mask wearing is not a legally binding requirement nor is it a new mandate, and it’s not all that different from the recommendation King County health officer Dr. Jeffrey Duchin issued last week. However, it does highlight the urgency among state authorities to take stronger steps to control the latest COVID wave, particularly since it comes alongside a requirement that all K-12 students, teachers, and school employees wear masks while around each other inside school buildings.

“It is unfortunate that we’re in this position because we have the tools to break the back of this pandemic,” said Inslee, emphasizing the need to increase vaccine rates in Washington. Currently, the state stands at around 70 percent of those 16 years of age or older who have initiated vaccination, but the rates vary greatly from county to county, and the overall pace of vaccinations has slowed considerably since the fall. Meanwhile, COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to tick up, with more than 96 percent of hospitalizations in Washington among those who are unvaccinated.

Inslee talked about a recent state program, the Power of Providers, which aims to connect those still hesitant to get the vaccine to health care professionals and possibly counter misinformation. But, so far, he seemed reluctant to take more forceful steps to address increased COVID spread among unvaccinated residents, such as requiring that state employees and frontline health care workers get vaccinated or provide a COVID-free test result (actions that California and New York have implemented of late). Inslee did leave open the door to stricter measures down the line, though, if the situation continues to worsen due to the delta variant.

As for dining establishments in Washington, they are still allowed to implement their own mask requirements, and many continue to do so, including Filipinx restaurant Musang in Beacon Hill and the cocktail den Rob Roy in Belltown. Several have even taken things a step further and have required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry. Such developments come as nine Seattle bars recently shut down temporarily due to a positive COVID test or potential exposure among staff members.

One of those bars, the popular Unicorn on Capitol Hill, will reopen Friday with a vaccine requirement. Owner Adam Heimstadt told the Seattle Times that all local bars should consider such a mandate: “It’s the only way. If some place does not do it, the people are just going to go to that bar and possibly get someone sick.”