By Tai's Capture via Unsplash
By Tai's Capture via Unsplash

A statewide mask order, requiring face masks for everyone older than 5 in most public indoor settings regardless of vaccination status went into effect in Washington, Monday.

The mask mandate includes places like grocery stores, malls, gyms and community centers.

Health officials also strongly recommend people wear masks in crowded outdoor settings where physical distancing is not possible. This includes places like sporting events, fairs and concerts.

According to a news release from the Washington State Department of Health, the order, which was approved by Gov. Jay Inslee, “reflects the recommendations of all 35 local health officers in the state of Washington and recent changes to CDC guidance ...”

With the rise of the more infectious Delta variant, every county in Washington is currently categorized as having substantial or high transmission, according to the news release.

According to the press release, the health care system is “under immense strain,” due in part to increased COVID-19 transmission, mostly among unvaccinated people. Between Feb. 1 and Aug. 3, 94.5 percent of COVID-19 cases who were hospitalized were not fully vaccinated.

“While vaccines are the pathway out of this pandemic, wearing a mask is necessary to stem the current increase in COVID-19 cases, driven by the Delta variant,” Washington State Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah said in a press release. “I appreciate the efforts of those who are already regularly wearing face coverings in public and urge others to join us in taking this critical step to control the virus. Each of us has a part to play to stop the spread of this disease in our communities.”

Some exceptions to the indoor mask requirement include:

* Children under age 5 years of age. However, children age 2 to 4 years old can wear a mask under close adult supervision.

* People with a medical or mental health condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask.

* Fully vaccinated workers who are working alone or in an area not accessible to the public.

* Athletes who play indoor sports and who are actively engaged in competition or practice (masks are still required on sidelines and in team meetings).

* Small indoor private gatherings when everyone is vaccinated.

* Children under 2 years of age should not wear a face covering due to the risk of suffocation.

As well, Inslee announced a vaccination requirement for employees working in K-12 education, most childcare and early learning and higher education, as well as an expansion of the statewide mask mandate to all individuals, regardless of vaccination status.

The governor was joined for the announcement by Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah.

K-12 educators, school staff, coaches, bus drivers, school volunteers and others working in school facilities will have until Oct. 18 to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment.

The requirement includes public, private and charter schools and comes as schools across the state prepare to return for the 2021–22 school year amid rapidly increasing case and hospitalization numbers.

This does not impact students, regardless of age.

“It has been a long pandemic, and our students and teachers have borne their own unique burdens throughout,” Inslee said at the press conference. “This virus is increasingly impacting young people, and those under the age of 12 still can’t get the vaccine for themselves. We won’t gamble with the health of our children, our educators and school staff, nor the health of the communities they serve.”

Inslee also announced a vaccine requirement for employees in Washington’s higher education institutions, as well as for most childcare and early learning providers who serve children from multiple households.

Childcare providers affected by the requirement include the following groups

Licensed, certified and contracted early learning and childcare programs

License-exempt early learning, childcare and youth-development programs

Contractors (coaches, volunteers, trainers, etc.)

Not included in this mandate are providers delivering FFN (family, friends and neighbors) care.