As COVID trends up again, officials ‘strongly recommend’ masks

There are no new mandates in Washington or Snohomish County. But “we really have an opportunity to get ahead of this.”

Assistant Secretary of Health Michele Roberts.

Assistant Secretary of Health Michele Roberts.

OLYMPIA — State health officials are again asking Washingtonians to mask up and think twice about crowds as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations trend upward.

“We are not returning to any broad mask requirement at this time,” Deputy Secretary for COVID Response Lacy Fehrenbach said Wednesday. “But we are strongly recommending that masks be worn in crowded or confined indoor spaces, or in areas where there may be poor ventilation or air quality.”

The warning echoes a “call to action” Snohomish County public health officials made earlier this month. Since then, the county’s and state’s disease metrics have continued upward.

Last week, Snohomish County tallied 2,204 new cases. As of Tuesday, 48 people were hospitalized with the virus. The state’s data dashboard shows Snohomish County’s weekly case rate slightly above Washington’s average.

Also Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee tested positive for COVID-19, reporting mild symptoms. The governor received his second booster shot in March and is seeking antiviral treatment, according to a news release.

Meanwhile, the state’s COVID deaths have remained stagnant.

“And while we’re grateful to not see an increase in deaths,” Fehrenbach said, “we do want to help Washingtonians understand what you all can do to protect yourself and remain safe.”

She urged residents to wear high-quality masks like KN95s, KF94s or N95s and to reconsider large gatherings.

Washingtonians should also have at-home tests on hand. Those can be ordered through the state-run site sayyescovidhometest.org or a federal portal, covid.gov/tests.

Health Secretary Umair Shah.

Health Secretary Umair Shah.

Since many residents are testing with at-home kits, COVID cases across the state are likely an undercount, said Health Secretary Umair Shah. But those who test positive at home can still report their results through the WA Notify mobile device app or the state’s hotline, 1-800-525-0127.

Officials are also asking Washingtonians to stay up-to-date with their vaccines. Last week, kids as young as 5 became eligible for a booster dose.

“We want to remind everyone that the idea of COVID-19 is always a mild disease in children is simply a myth,” said Assistant Secretary of Health Michele Roberts.

A timeline for toddler-safe vaccines will likely emerge next month, she said.

State medical advisor Bob Lutz encouraged people who test positive for COVID-19 to seek Paxlovid, a prescription anti-viral treatment found to be nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalization and death.

“Currently, there’s plenty of Paxlovid across the state,” Lutz said. “We have more than 800 locations.”

As of Wednesday, Snohomish and six other counties were in a medium “community level” under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s metrics, which focus on hospital capacity. Meanwhile, more and more counties across the country have escalated to the high-risk designation.

“We really have an opportunity to get ahead of this,” Shah said, “and prevent what we’re seeing across the country (from) happening in our state.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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