SEATTLE — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a major update Friday to its face mask guidance amid waning COVID-19 cases, saying about 70% of the country could safely stop wearing face masks in most places.
While the new guidance likely doesn’t mean much of an update for Washington state due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask mandate, which is set to expire on March 21, the new thresholds give residents a look at how various counties around the state are doing in fighting the pandemic.
Under the CDC’s new rules, counties with low to medium transmission rates can safely stop wearing masks everywhere except in airports, on planes, buses and other forms of transit.
Those counties with high transmission levels should continue wearing masks in most places.
The level of transmission is determined by looking at the number of hospital beds being used, hospital admissions and the total number of new COVID cases in the given county.
As for western Washington, all but three counties, Pierce, Clallam and Jefferson, have either low or medium transmission levels.
King, the state’s most populous, and Snohomish counties both are considered to have low transmission levels, according to the CDC map.
In fact, only nine of the state’s 39 counties are considered to have high transmission levels as of Thursday, with central Washington from Grant County up to Okanogan County being the largest swath continuing to struggle the most with the virus.
Despite the CDC’s announcement, Washington residents won’t likely be able to take their masks off indoors until late March since that’s when the Department of Health (DOH) projects COVID hospital admissions to be down to just five per 100,000 residents statewide.
Inslee released a statement Friday following the CDC guidance, saying state health officials were still reviewing the guidance from the CDC and would have more to say next week.
As of Friday, Inslee said, March 21 remains the date the state's indoor mask mandate will end.
King County has its own mask mandate in place apart from the state. County officials said in a statement Thursday that if hospitalization and case trends continue at their current rate or improve, they anticipate lifting their mandate on March 21 along with the state mandate.
The statement from Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC) read in part:
"King County is now considered to be at a "low COVID-19 community level" according to CDC's new classification method. This is a reflection of our recent falling hospitalization and case numbers after the Omicron surge, and a reflection of the actions King County residents have taken to protect themselves and others, most importantly through vaccination."
A spokesperson for PHSKC had previously said that officials would look at the number and severity of COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths as well as the status of the health care system and its ability to take on more patients.
As of Wednesday, the state’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate is around 15 admissions per 100,000 residents. In King County, it’s less than six admissions per 100,000 residents.