King County’s neighbors to the north and south now have mask mandates in place again. Following a directive by Snohomish County enacted August 12, Pierce County has announced a similar measure that requires face coverings in public indoor settings such as restaurants, effective immediately. The directive applies to anyone 5 years of age or older, whether fully vaccinated or not, although Pierce County health director Dr. Anthony Chen said that children between 2-4 are also recommended to wear a mask, if possible.
“Masking will reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 for everyone, including customers, workers and children under 12 who cannot get vaccinated,” Chen said in a statement. “I strongly urge everyone in Pierce County to follow this directive and to get vaccinated. We must use all the tools we have to keep our community safe.”
The announcement comes as a fifth wave of COVID driven by the more delta variant continues to concern officials across the region. According to recent data, the 14-day case rate for Pierce County as of August 12 was around 379 cases per 100,000 people, which is near the peak of last winter’s surge. New hospitalizations are also ticking up, with 8.3 people hospitalized for COVID per 100,000 in Pierce County over a 7-day period.
But the Washington state department of health’s August 11 report also emphasizes that 95 percent of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations from February 1 through the end of July statewide were among those who are not fully vaccinated. In Pierce County, about half of the population 12 years of age or older have not completed their vaccine series.
Every health director in the state has united around mask recommendations at the very least, but stricter directives — which present stronger guidelines for businesses, while not legally binding — aren’t as widespread. In King County, health director Dr. Jeffrey Duchin has repeated his recent recommendation that all residents wear a mask inside, yet hasn’t gone as far as putting a directive back in place. Duchin has said that he hopes the high rate of vaccination in King County will guard against a large outbreak that would strain the health care system (more than 76 percent of eligible residents are fully inoculated).
That all could change, though, depending on how the delta variant continues to impact the Seattle area. COVID cases in King County have still increased dramatically of late, even if hospitalizations are still relatively low compared with previous pandemic peaks. On 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. And more than 130 bars and restaurants have voluntarily instituted their own vaccine requirements for entry.
Whether city officials will take broader action on the vaccine requirement front, as has been the case in New York and San Francisco, or officially mandate mask-wearing, remains to be seen. Says a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, “We’ve been talking with the City Council, King County, and the state about potential new options to slow community spread.”