Washington surpasses key COVID-19 metric that could trigger indoor mask mandate

A key metric Governor Jay Inslee used to determine the lifting of a state wide mask mandate in March has been surpassed by the recent surge of COVID infections.

He said he would not lift the mask mandate if the rate of COVID hospitalizations was above 5 per 100,000 people. As of May 27, the Department of Health lists the rate as 7 per 100,000. The number has been increasing over the last 3 weeks.

Inslee and Lt Gov. Denny Heck both announced on Wednesday they had contracted COVID. Both were said to be isolating and did not give each other the virus.

During a Department of Health briefing on that same day, officials indicated they are not recommending a return of the statewide indoor mask mandate, instead only ‘strongly recommending' people wear a mask indoors.

"We are not returning to any broad mask requirements at this time, but we are strongly recommending that masks be worn in crowded or confined indoor spaces," said Lacy Fehrenbach of DOH.

"[COVID-19] is a wily beast—we are going to make decisions every day based on our best available science, and that's what we are doing," Inslee said a week before his office announced he had the virus, and two days before the hospitalization metric reached 7 per 100,000.

"At the moment, we do not see it entering that zone where hospitals cannot function," said Inslee.

On March 21, when the Governor lifted the mask mandate, the COVID hospitalization rate was 2.5 per 100,000.

Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said at the time, he thought the 5 per 100,000 rate was too high a threshold for a mask mandate, saying a lower rate will protect more people.

"I am a little bit concerned about what seems to be a high hospitalization rate threshold… for implementation of community measures, like masking," Duchin said on March 13.

By comparison, Los Angeles County now has a hospitalization rate of 4.5 per 100,000. Some schools like UCLA, which is in Los Angeles County, have instituted their own mask mandate.

The Northwest Folklife Festival during the Memorial Day weekend at Seattle required masks and vaccine verifications for all indoor venues.


NW Folklife Festival COVID protocols provide a look at what festival season could look like in 2022

The Northwest Folklife Festival has been virtual for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year they have new protocols in place to deal with the virus so in-person events are once again part of the celebration .

"If we're not taking care of our people, we are not doing it right," said Artistic Director Benjamin Hunter.

According to the Centers for Disease Control Risk Assessment maps, 15 of the state’s 39 counties have moved into the yellow ‘medium-risk’ zone. However, when it comes to rate of transmission from one person to another, 30 counties are now in the red, denoting the highest risk for transmission.

"Cases are rising on the west side," said Dr. Bob Lutz, COVID-19 Medical Advisor for the Department of Health. "We are seeing a rise on the east side now, not at the same degree."

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"It is hard to predict in what direction it will go," said Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah. "I will tell you that you'll start to see increases in communities throughout Washington; none of us are immune to this, it’s just a matter of the protections we put in place."

The governor is set to attend an event in the Tri-Cities area on Thursday. The Department of Health recommends people who test positive for COVID isolate the first five days after a diagnosis and then wear five days afterwards if they need to leave isolation.