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Health officers from 8 Washington counties now recommend wearing masks in indoor spaces

Eight Washington health officers are recommending all residents wear face masks indoors to prevent the spread of the “highly contagious delta variant.”

SEATTLE — Health officers from eight counties in Washington are now recommending all residents wear face coverings in indoor public settings, regardless if they are fully vaccinated.

Health officers from King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson, San Juan and Grays Harbor counties signed a joint statement Monday recommending face coverings when the “vaccination status of those around you is unknown."

“This step will help reduce the risk of COVID-19 to the public, including customers and workers, help stem the increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in many parts of the state and decrease the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant,” the statement reads.

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The joint statement also urged eligible residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Vaccinations are our best defense against COVID-19 and are safe, effective, and readily available for everyone age 12 and over,” the statement read. “Please get yours immediately if you are not already vaccinated.”

Monday’s joint recommendation comes after King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin recommended on Friday that all people above the age of 5 wear face coverings indoors to slow the spread of COVID-19, saying it was “an extra layer of protection to help us all stay safer.”

Washington state’s masking guidance says people who are not fully vaccinated must continue wearing masks in indoor settings, but everyone should mask up in high-risk crowded areas, like medical facilities, public transit and schools. Fully vaccinated people currently are allowed to forgo masks in many public situations.

On Friday, Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington State Department of Health acting chief science officer, said universal masking “is exactly what we are discussing right now,” adding that he feels comfortable with local health officials making their own masking decisions at this time.

“There are some counties that really have not had cases,” explained Lindquist. “So, that seems a bit extreme for those local health officers and their elected officials. So, you know, where we’re at now is I’m comfortable with the local ability to be more stringent than the state.”

Still, he said to "stay tuned," because things could change. He also expressed concern for some counties with low vaccination rates. Over the past month in King County, 94% of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 are among the unvaccinated.