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3 Washington counties issue universal masking directives for indoor public spaces

The directives come amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the unvaccinated largely blamed on delta variant.

SEATTLE — Thurston, Snohomish and Pierce counties are now strongly encouraging everyone, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status, to mask up inside indoor public spaces amid the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases.

On Wednesday, Pierce County Director of Health Dr. Anthony Chen issued a countrywide mask directive that took effect immediately.

A masking directive took effect in Snohomish County on Thursday, Aug. 12, and a masking directive for Thurston County took effect on Friday, Aug. 13.

For all three counties, the directives apply to those 5 years and older and do not come with any penalties or fines for those not in compliance.

Snohomish County’s directive comes as Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters reported a 365% increase in weekly reported cases since July 1.

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For Thurston County, the last two weeks have seen a more than 13% test positivity rate and more than 272 cases per 100,000 residents.

Chen's directive comes amid Pierce County's "longest and strongest COVID-19 case increase we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic."

On Aug. 12, the health officers of all 35 local health jurisdictions in Washington recommended that residents wear masks in indoor public settings where the vaccination status of those around them is unknown.

It follows the same recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the state’s Department of Health.

Those health officers are also urging those who have yet to do so to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, as this remains the most effective way to prevent infection.

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

While more than 70% of the state’s eligible population has already initiated their vaccinations, the highly transmissible delta variant has wreaked havoc among the unvaccinated.

The state’s case numbers in recent weeks have spiked to levels not seen since mid-January while vaccinations have also seen a dramatic increase as residents fear more rollbacks are possible and vaccine mandates become more common.

The three counties’ masking directives are in place until the health departments confirm that case rates have dropped to low levels of transmission based on CDC guidelines.