July 24, 2021

King County to end mask mandate as Washington nears 70% vaccination rate

3 min read

By the end of June, King County residents will get to ditch their face masks in most places most of the time, public health officials say.

King County Public Health officials said on Tuesday that 70% of residents ages 16 and up had received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson inoculation. That means face masks are coming off for all who want to do so in most places starting June 29.

There is no universal consensus among scientists on what vaccination rates may be necessary to achieve “herd immunity” or the stage at which viral transmission slows down. While 70% is among the percentages proposed by scientists, most say communities should ensure the rate is as high as possible.

King County Executive Dow Constantine was among the local leaders calling on residents to bump that percentage up even higher.

“People across King County have shown what’s possible when we work together to keep one another healthy,” Constantine said. “Now, let’s finish the task, ensuring that every person in King County can get vaccinated as soon as possible, and defeat this pandemic.”

The CDC requires face masks must still be worn in hospitals, schools and public transit like airplanes. In Washington, businesses are being given leeway to keep face masks rules in place at their choosing. Many say they do not expect to enforce them in the near term.

The end of the face mask mandate is among the many rewards King and other counties will reap once the state meets the same 70% benchmark. In addition, indoor capacity limits and social distancing will end along with the phased reopening metrics, which have thrown counties in and out of lockdown since the onset of the pandemic.

Washington health officials have expressed more caution than others nationwide in embracing CDC guidance relaxing mask requirements in public. Last month, Seattle & King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said he thought the guidance could have been premature. He suggested the county should instead lift its mask mandate when the state is expected to reopen by the end of this month.

As of Wednesday, the state’s vaccination rate stood at 67.2% of all people 16 and older. Pfizer’s vaccine is the only vaccine to be approved for children 12 and older.

Inslee has shrugged off calls to reopen the state ahead of schedule, saying he is sticking by his benchmark, which he expects the state will meet this month.

“For those who would advocate changing our strategy, we are on the two-yard line,” Inslee said in a written statement. “We are not going to change the game plan now. We are going to see this through.”

Washington is among a host of states holding a vaccine lottery encouraging people to get their shots. The contest runs through the end of June and offers more than $2 million in prizes.

On Wednesday, the Washington Department of Health reported 531 new cases of COVID-19 and one death from the virus, bringing the state’s total caseload to 445,686 and its death toll to 5,801 people. 

On Wednesday, the U.S. surpassed 600,000 deaths from the virus nationwide.

This article was originally posted on King County to end mask mandate as Washington nears 70% vaccination rate

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