Mixed messages from local, state health officials as King County 'strongly urges' mask-wearing

To mask, or not to mask? It's a question on a lot of King County residents' minds as the state and county's top health officials send mixed messages on whether fully vaccinated people should continue wearing masks indoors. 

Washington state Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said Wednesday that "fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most situations." 

His statement is in line with the latest CDC guidance, which says fully vaccinated people don't need to wear masks indoors or social distance, unless they're in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters. 

But Shah's tweet doesn't align with comments King County Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin made a day before. 

"The time will come when mask mandates are no longer necessary for everyone, for now let's stick with what's working while more are vaccinated & CoV-19 disease rates fall," Duchin said on Twitter. 

King County Public Health declined to clarify Wednesday, deferring to Duchin's tweets instead. On Thursday, King County Public Health issued a "directive" "strongly urging" everyone to continue mask use, but it doesn't appear to be a mandate. 

"We have no way to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t, and it’s impractical for businesses to determine that," Duchin said. "If unvaccinated people do not wear masks, the risk for COVID-19 spread increases. From a practical and community health perspective, the most reliable way to ensure everyone is safe is for everyone to wear a face mask in indoor public spaces for a few more weeks, until we get vaccination rates higher and disease rates lower."

Shah said Washingtonians should "respect the room they're in," meaning some businesses and local governments may still require masks indoors. He said local jurisdictions should be issuing more guidance soon. 

"If you’re vaccinated you’re protected, but people will wear masks still," Shah said during his weekly COVID briefing. "We don’t want to see people shamed for wearing a mask. We don’t want people pressured into not wearing a mask. If you're unvaccinated you are NOT protected."

RELATED: ‘Now is not the time’: Nurses’ union condemns CDC for relaxing mask protocols for vaccinated people

Major retail outlets like Target, Kroger and CVS Health announced that fully vaccinated customers are no longer required to wear masks in their stores - unless there's a local mandate in place. 

There are some caveats to the updated CDC guidance. People who have weak immune systems, such as from organ transplants or cancer treatment, should talk with their doctors before shedding their masks. That’s because of continued uncertainty about whether the vaccines can rev up a weakened immune system as well as they do normal, healthy ones.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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