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As COVID Cases Spike, Snohomish County Reinstates Mask Directive

Could King County be next?

A pile of light blue face masks on a host station at a restaurant with a peach-colored flower vase in the background
Face masks will be required again inside Snohomish County public spaces, starting August 12.

Effective August 12, Snohomish County will reinstate a mask directive, requiring all residents 5 and over to wear face coverings indoors, whether fully vaccinated or not, as announced in a press conference Tuesday. This applies to all indoor public spaces, including restaurants, retails stores, and supermarkets, but not outdoor environments or indoor non-public spaces, such as corporate offices.

The announcement comes as cases across the county have doubled in the past three weeks due to the presence of the more contagious delta variant of COVID; the two-week rate in Snohomish stands at 280 cases per 100,000 people, which meets the Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s threshold for “high transmission.” About 54 percent of eligible Snohomish residents have completed their vaccine series.

Whether a similar mandate is on the way for Seattle remains to be seen. In King County, local authorities recently issued a “recommendation” for indoor mask wearing, but not a stricter mandate like Snohomish. At least not yet. Such a mandate is still not enforced through punitive measures such as fines for noncompliance, but provides less ambiguity than a recommendation for local businesses. Over the past two weeks, King County health officer Dr. Jeffrey Duchin has said such a move may not be necessary, considering that vaccination rates in the area are fairly high: The number of fully vaccinated eligible residents is about 20 percentage points higher than Snohomish at the moment.

That hesitation to bring back restrictions could always change, though. Like just about every other county in Washington, COVID cases in King County have increased dramatically of late, even if hospitalizations are still relatively low compared with previous pandemic peaks. “All of us need to be aware of the risk the delta variance poses,” Duchin has said.

Regardless of mask policies, both Snohomish and King County officials agree that increasing vaccinations is still the best tool to fight the delta variant. On Monday, August 9, Seattle major Jenny Durkan, Duchin, and King County executive Dow Constantine appeared alongside Gov. Jay Inlsee to announce a vaccine mandate among city, county, and state employees. To meet the new requirements, police officers, administrators (whether in office or remote), transportation crews, and other workers for Seattle and King County must have received their second shot of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine (or their first shot of a Johnson & Johnson vaccine), by October 4 or risk losing their job.

Snohomish has not joined King County in applying such a mandate to its employees, but is taking such measures under advisement. When asked whether even more restrictions would be considered if the situation with the delta variant continues to deteriorate, Snohomish County health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said, “Nothing that we’ve done before is completely off the table because we don’t know what lies ahead.”