King County to reconsider possible return of mask mandate

King County health officials are once again warning about high levels of COVID-19 transmission.

On Thursday, Seattle & King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin held a media briefing on the effects of long-term COVID-19 and gave updates on current COVID-19 trends in the county.

“We are in active discussions about if and when to re-issue any mask mandate,” Duchin said. “It’s not an easy question because things change over time. For example, if we were seeing a level of severity of illness that we saw before people were as well-vaccinated as they are now or during the delta surge, I think we would be moving more quickly to such measures as a mask mandate.”

King County health officials said they are currently seeing 941 daily average cases — more than the peak of last year’s delta variant surge.

And they believe those numbers are an undercount since many people take at-home tests.

“COVID-19 is not one-and-done. This is going to be a real long-term challenge for us,” Duchin said. “We’re not going to be able to have infinite series of mandates forcing people to do this, that, and the other. They have the role, where things get very serious and we need short-term, immediate improvement. But over the long-term, we really do need people to understand that we need our business community, our leadership in the community, and our community members to take the steps that they need to take to protect themselves.”

Health care systems are under stress as well, with hospitalizations up threefold since April.

Over the past week, King County has seen 21 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per day, or nearly one per hour.

“A major stressor is that the hospitals are needing to house and care for patients who no longer need to be hospitalized and are ready for discharge but don’t have an appropriate place to be sent in the community due to limited capacity in nursing homes, making those hospital beds unavailable for others who need them,” Duchin said during Thursday’s briefing.

Duchin also said people should avoid going to the emergency room if they don’t have a true medical emergency.

Meanwhile, King County is seeing about three COVID-19 deaths per day, up from one per day in April. But Duchin said deaths are not rising at the same rate as other COVID-19 numbers because of vaccinations.