Discarded blue surgical face mask on a road of dirt and leaves.

King County Eases COVID-19 Restrictions as Washington Set to Reopen June 30

by Carolyn Bick

As King County prepares to reopen after more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions along with the rest of the state, Washingtonians still need to take precautions.

Washington State will officially reopen on Wednesday, June 30. This means that while vaccinated people will have the option to go maskless indoors — a step King County took on Tuesday, June 29, one day ahead of schedule — this does not mean that businesses cannot require people to wear masks inside, according to a June 29 press release from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office. The press release also suggests that large indoor and outdoor events require either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. Physical distancing restrictions will also be lifted and with the exception of large indoor events, there will be no more capacity restrictions.

However, this reopening also means that unvaccinated people and children under the age of 12 who are unable to get the vaccine will become more susceptible to contracting and spreading the virus, if they or their guardians do not take proper precautions. If you or a loved one is eligible to get the vaccine, walk-up appointments are available daily at many locations around King County, including pharmacies, clinics, and mass vaccination sites.

People who have not been vaccinated are asked to continue to wear their masks in public indoor settings and for indoor recreation, according to a June 29 press release from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) that references the DOH’s updated health order. While no one is required to wear a mask outdoors, the DOH said in this press release that “[p]eople who are unvaccinated are encouraged to wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings, such as at sporting events, fairs, parades, concerts, and similar settings where it’s harder to maintain physical distance.”

Washingtonians are also advised to keep a well-fitting mask on them at all times, even if they are vaccinated. As mentioned above, businesses may choose to keep their mask mandates in place. More information about getting a vaccine and masking guidance can be found on Public Health – Seattle & King County’s website.

The P.1 variant is also another reason for people to continue to wear masks indoors, even if they are vaccinated and regardless of the lifted restrictions. That variant, which is climbing in Washington State, appears to have the ability to “dodge” antibodies, which means that even fully vaccinated people are at risk of infection.

While it is not yet prevalent in Washington State, the new Delta variant is still a variant of concern. The Delta variant, first discovered in India, is much more contagious and has spread quickly across the globe. It also appears to cause more severe infection. While only Israel has so far reported a large amount of breakthrough cases — cases in which a person has been fully vaccinated but has contracted the virus anyway — the Delta variant is relatively new to the viral landscape. Officials in Los Angeles have already issued new masking guidance because of it, and it’s expected to become the dominant form of the virus across the country, particularly in states with low vaccination rates.

Carolyn Bick is a local journalist and photographer. As the Emerald’s Watchdragon reporter, they dive deep into local issues to keep the public informed and ensure those in positions of power are held accountable for their actions. You can reach them here and can check out their work here and here.

📸 Featured Image: Discarded face mask by Cate Bligh (under an Unsplash free license).

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