SEATTLE — Health authorities in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties are recommending that people wear masks in indoor public spaces as viral respiratory illnesses are circulating across the state and country.
The respiratory illnesses of concern include the flu, RSV and COVID-19.
In total, health departments across 13 counties teamed up to send the same message, including: Thurston, Clallam, Jefferson, Pierce, King, Whatcom County, San Juan County, Pacific, Skamania, Kittitas, Snohomish, Clark, and Kitsap Counties.
According to a news release from the counties’ health officials, they “recommend that everyone wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask when around others in indoor spaces to protect against both acquiring and spreading these infections to others.”
Nigel Turner with Tacoma-Pierce County Health says it is fairly rare for the same message to come from so many counties — and shows how widespread and serious illness is in Washington state.
“We’re united on a common message, but it doesn’t happen that often. We don’t often see such an important issue and such a significant risk, a trend in disease which is headed in the wrong way,” Turner said.
The health departments stopped short of a mandate, but Turner didn’t completely rule out the possibility.
“There’s always options and we need to match those with the level of disease in the community. As of now it’s a recommendation,” he said.
People shopping in Renton on Friday when the new recommendation came out were largely on board.
“I think it’s a good idea, I’d rather be safe than sorry — I’m trying to protect my mom who is elderly, my family, myself,” said Kim Callier.
But some say they probably won’t dig the masks back out.
“No, I never did like the mask,” said Rhonda Koski, another Renton shopper. “I never did like it the first time, but I just stayed home,” she said.
The public is also urged to stay up to date on vaccinations, which health officials said is the best way to keep from getting severe infections that could lead to hospitalization and death.
The flu is most dangerous for children under 5, adults 65 and older, those who are pregnant, and anyone who has a chronic condition such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.
Health officials said other preventative measures include:
- Staying home from work or school and testing for COVID-19 if you have symptoms.
- Having a plan for rapid treatment for COVID-19 or the flu for those who are at increased risk for severe infections.
- Improving air quality through ventilation, filtration, and UV technology, where appropriate.
“In addition to RSV and influenza, new COVID-19 variants are taking hold and immunity from past vaccination is waning for many people who have not yet received an updated booster shot. The surge in these viruses is resulting in many illnesses, contributing to rising absenteeism in schools this fall. This impact extends to businesses, workers, and families,” the news release said.
Pierce County said it’s seeing a record number of schools reporting absences from sick students. Schools must notify the health department when more than 10% of students call out. Within one week, about 100 Pierce County schools crossed that threshold.
KIRO 7 has reached out to Tacoma and Seattle Public Schools to ask if masking policies will change at schools.
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