Seattle is restoring a universal mask mandate for major outdoor concerts or sporting events in an effort to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the city and surrounding county.
Beginning Sept. 7, masks will be mandatory at any outdoor event with more than 500 in attendance, King County Health Officer Jeff Duchin announced Thursday. The order applies to anyone 5 years and older, regardless of vaccination status.
The health department’s order “strongly recommends” wearing face coverings in all other outdoor settings where people cannot keep a meter and a half away from individuals who are not part of the same household.
King County, in which Seattle is located, is home to more than 2.2 million residents, making it the most populous county in Washington state and the 12th most populous in the US.
The latest wave of Covid-19 infections, driven by the Delta variant, is taking “a heavy toll on hospitals and the health care system,” public health officials said. Although King County has “some of the highest vaccination rates of any major metropolitan area” in the US, officials said there are about 750,000 people who have not been vaccinated, including children under the age of 12.
“Every day, large numbers of hospitals contact the Washington Medical Coordination Center. In recent days, nearly 60 percent of calls were Covid-related,” said Dr. Steve Mitchell, director of emergency services at Harborview Medical Center, said in a statement. “Capacity and staffing issues in hospitals are widespread and consistent across the state.”
Washington’s neighboring state of Oregon reinstated a mask mandate for outdoor public environments last month. The strict rules set the pair apart from other US states that have hitherto focused on indoor environments, if at all.
The two states are both experiencing record levels of Covid-19 hospitalizations, despite having some of the highest vaccination rates in the US. Washington (60.4 percent) ranks 9th in the US for the proportion of the population that is fully vaccinated, while Oregon ranks 12th (58.1 percent).