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Washington fully reopens, but don't ditch the mask just yet

The state health department's current mask order has some amendments, but is here to stay as Washington fully reopens.

SEATTLE — Mask rules are here to stay, whether Washington state is fully reopened or not.

The Washington Department of Health (DOH) released an update Tuesday to mask rules ahead of the state reopening to pre-pandemic levels on June 30.

The mask order will stay in place, which says unvaccinated people must still wear masks in indoor public settings, however, they do not have to wear masks in most outdoor settings. Unvaccinated people are encouraged to wear a mask in outdoor settings that are crowded or may not allow for proper social distancing, such as at sporting events, concerts and parades.

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Vaccinated people can forego the mask in most indoor settings, unless required by specific rules of the place they are in, such as a business.

Vaccinated and unvaccinated people must still wear masks in certain indoor settings such as child care, schools and where children are normally present. People, regardless of vaccination status, must also wear a mask inside health care settings, prisons and jails, homeless shelters and transportation hubs such as trains, buses, and ferry terminals, including airports.

The DOH noted that mask rules can change per business and local jurisdictions, despite changes to state rules.

“Respect the rules of the room you’re in,” the DOH said in its news release.

Transportation hubs like a Sound Transit light rail stop is an example of an area where masks are still required.

"I'm pretty used to it now. It's like a thing I carry out the house like I carry my wallet," said Michael Jackson, who, along with his co-worker, took the light rail back home from work Tuesday.

Jackson said he would continue wearing the mask regardless of how the rules change.

"At least for another six months, you know," said Jackson.

Amid the modifications to state mask rules and Washington's reopening on June 30, the spread of COVID-19 variants of concern are still being monitored by state health officials. 

RELATED: CDC director weighs in on wearing masks amid delta variant spread

The delta variant has taken hold in other parts of the United States, but the state's head epidemiologist said the Ggamma variant, which originally took hold in Brazil, is of the most concern.

"While everyone is concerned that the delta variant have more death and hospitalization, we are just not seeing that here in Washington," said Dr. Scott Lindquist, with the DOH, said in a briefing last week. "We are seeing more breakthrough cases and hospitalizations with the gamma variant." 

The uncertain spread of variants is one reason why continuing to wear masks has been recommended by public health officials.

A VERIFY report found a fully vaccinated person exposed to the Delta variant could transmit COVID-19 to others, but it is less likely for a vaccinated person to transmit it than an unvaccinated person.

In King County, the public health directive that advised vaccinated people to continue wearing masks in most indoor settings expired Tuesday, ahead of the state fully reopening Wednesday. 

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