SEATTLE — Due to a surge in COVID-19 cases Washington state’s most populous county is reinstating outdoor mask mandates for large events and strongly encouraging people to wear masks in other outdoor settings when they can’t remain six feet apart.
In a statement Thursday Public Health — Seattle & King County said as of Sept. 7 there will be a requirement for facemasks for outdoor events of 500 or more people. The directive applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people over age 5.
The recommendation for outdoor masks when people are unable to socially distance from non-household members is also for people 5 and up regardless of vaccination status.
“With high rates of disease spread, and our health care system straining to keep up, it is time to take additional steps to keep ourselves and our communities safe,” the health agency said.
King County, which includes Seattle, is home to about 2.2 million people. Just last week County Executive Dow Constantine had boasted that King County had one of the highest vaccination rates of any large county in the U.S. As of last week more than 70% of people 12 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
In its statement the county health agency noted the region’s high vaccination numbers but said “there are still approximately 750,000 people in King County who remain unvaccinated and susceptible to COVID-19.”
That number includes children under 12 who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 shots.
Health officials said vaccinated people were at a “much lower risk” catching and spreading the disease then unvaccinated people, “but the risk is not zero.”
This week state health officials said the delta strain of the COVID-19 virus is filling hospitals at an “alarming” rate and continuing to strain health care workers. There are now about 1,500 COVID-19 patients in the state’s hospitals.
“Layering multiple prevention strategies, including wearing a well-made and snug-fitting face mask when in crowed outdoor locations, is a necessary precaution at this time to limit COVID-19 spread and preventable cases, hospitalizations, and deaths,” said King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin.
As of last week people in Oregon, regardless of vaccination status, were once required to wear masks in most public outdoor settings.