OLYMPIA, Wash — Washington will soon require everyone to wear face coverings at large outdoor events along with inside indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status.
Beginning Monday, everyone attending an event with 500 or more people throughout the entire state will be required to wear a face-covering whether they are vaccinated or not.
The expanded mandate was announced by Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday during his first address since August when he announced state, healthcare, K-12 and higher education employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or face losing their jobs.
The new mandate is very similar to the outdoor mask requirements recently implemented by King and Pierce counties that are already in effect.
Although outdoor events are generally considered to be lower risk for COVID-19 transmission, five different outdoor superspreader events infected more than 500 people at concerts, fairs and rodeos across Washington, including an outbreak at the Watershed Music Festival, according to Washington State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah.
The outdoor mask mandate comes as Washington state's hospitalization rates are at the highest level ever during the pandemic, according to state data. The Washington State Department of Health(DOH) is encouraging hospitals to "limit and curtail elective procedures" in order to maintain enough capacity, Shah said.
The spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, driven by the unvaccinated and the delta variant, has prompted new vaccination requirements and additional masking mandates.
This week, major venues in Seattle announced vaccination requirements in order to attend games and events, and King County said it is developing a policy to require vaccinations at many nonessential businesses that would likely take effect in October.
Inslee said the state would consider similar measures in the future "when it made sense" and when the state has a mechanism for enforcing those policies.
Hospitals continue to be strained throughout the state.
After Idaho initiated crisis standards of care on Tuesday, an official process by which hospitals must ration health care resources, the Washington Department of Health (DOH) issued a statement Wednesday on hospital capacity.
Shah said state hospitals aren't in a place where crisis standards of care are necessary, and he hopes the new mandate will alleviate some of the burden hospitals are facing.
"Overall, yes, we have those resources that are necessary today, but over time, it could break," Shah said.
The DOH said it plans to use the framework from the National Academy of Medicine that “stresses the importance of an ethically grounded system” to help make critical decisions while in a crisis situation.
Health officials continue to urge everyone to get vaccinated, wear a mask while in public and practice social distancing.
As of Sept. 7, 67% of the state’s eligible population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.