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King County health directive ‘strongly urges’ people to wear masks indoors

The directive “strongly urges” residents to continue wearing masks in indoor public settings, even if they are fully vaccinated.

SEATTLE — King County’s health officer issued a directive “strongly urging all residents” to continue wearing face coverings in indoor spaces open to the public, even if a person is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin issued the directive Thursday, and it is effective immediately. The directive says everyone age 5 and older in King County “should continue to wear face coverings indoors, unless a state-approved method is used to assure that all people allowed inside have been fully vaccinated.”

The directive does not apply to outdoor spaces.

The directive will remain in place until Public Health – Seattle & King County confirms 70% or more of King County residents age 16 and older are fully vaccinated. The directive states King County is on track to reach that goal by June 30, 2021.

According to public health data, 54.9% of King County residents are fully vaccinated and 69.6% of residents have received one vaccine dose as of May 19. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second COVID-19 vaccine dose or two weeks after receiving the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Although King County's vaccination rate is better than the statewide rate, Duchin pointed out that most of the county's fully vaccinated residents are among older adults.

“We need to get better coverage throughout the age spectrum,” he said in an interview Friday.

Public Health recommends businesses serving the public, including grocery and other retail stores, continue policies to ensure customers continue to wear masks in their business.

“Continued use of face masks for everyone five years of age and older within indoor public spaces is reasonable and necessary in King County to reduce the risk for COVID-19 transmission until more of the population is protected through vaccination and COVID-19 disease rates decline,” the directive states.

RELATED: Kroger lifts mask mandate for fully vaccinated shoppers, except for Washington stores

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) order requiring residents to wear face masks in schools, public transportation, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and health care settings is still in effect.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidance to allow people who are fully vaccinated to stop wearing masks in certain settings. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and the state DOH, both said ending indoor mask mandates should be linked to local circumstances and data.

Public Health – Seattle & King County said it considered the following factors before issuing the directive:

  • While King County vaccination rates are leading the nation, large segments of our population are not yet fully vaccinated.
  • Rates of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain elevated in King County.
  • Gathering indoors without masks with no way of knowing who is and who is not vaccinated raises the level of risk for COVID-19 spread for customers and workers.
  • The burden of COVID-19 is disproportionately higher in some parts of our community, due to underlying causes such as living and working conditions and access to the vaccine. This includes people in neighborhoods in south and southeast King County, younger age groups, and residents of color.
  • Many people with certain health conditions don’t have the option of getting vaccinated to protect themselves. They rely instead on us as a community to protect them.
  • Children 12-15 years and young adults only recently became eligible for vaccination.

It is important to note that the directive Duchin issued is not an order, which Duchin said would allow the county to police masking and take people to court over it. Since King County has had strong masking compliance throughout the pandemic, Duchin said he didn't feed the need to change last year's masking directive into an order.

“I didn’t feel the need to escalate that,” he said.

“Seattle has led the country with the lowest deaths, cases, and hospitalizations of COVID-19 because we have relied on the local public health experts and scientists,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. “The decisions we made saved countless lives. Seattle’s goal is to keep our community safe and healthy in every way possible, and as more individuals and young people are seeking vaccinations, we know masking in indoor public spaces will continue to allow our community to have the highest level of protection.”

Click here to read the full indoor masking directive.