Inslee orders new mask mandate as COVID-19 cases surge

Beleaguered with COVID-19 patients, hospitals are hoping Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest mask mandate will slow the spread of the virus.

Starting Monday, everyone will have to wear a mask at outdoor events where there are more than 500 people.

“I’m all for it. I think it’s a good idea, and it doesn’t take much to put on a mask and do our part,” said Rosanne Franciosi in Olympia.

But Jeff Kirkwood said, “I think it’s a slippery slope when you start mandating things without laws, and I’m not sure the science is quite clear on wearing masks.”

To be clear, the courts have consistently upheld Inslee’s COVID-19 emergency mandates, and he said the science is clear on masks working to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“These are big steps that are being taken, but little, tiny baby steps are not up to the task,” Inslee said.

The state’s latest numbers show the hospitalization rate is up four times the rate of last September.

The Providence Hospitals in Olympia and Centralia have 22 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units. Only three are fully vaccinated.

“We have seen twice as many patients COVID than we saw all of last year right now,” said Chief Executive Darren Goss. “We have patients waiting for an ICU bed as we speak.”

At the Olympia hospital, staff members are now setting up beds in the hallways and are grateful they haven’t had to use them so far.

The COVID-19 case rate in Washington is six times that of last September, according to the state’s numbers.

Asked why he’s not taking further steps such as limiting capacity in stores and restaurants, Inslee responded, “Because we’re doing the things that are readily available. We know they work. And if we do them, we will beat this pandemic.”

Hospitals are desperate for this to work.

“We cannot keep going as status quo with our surging, patient volumes, and we really do need to take any measure we can,” said Goss.

Inslee made clear he’s willing to take further steps such as partial shutdowns if this new mandate doesn’t slow the spread.