PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County’s public health officer, Dr. Tom Locke, expects to rescind his universal masking mandate for people in the county’s public spaces and private businesses at the end of the month.
However, the state requirements for unvaccinated residents to wear face masks in businesses and indoor public spaces is expected to continue past June 30, Locke told the Jefferson County Board of Health on Thursday.
On that date, Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to lift most COVID-19 restrictions on business capacity, social distancing and gathering sizes. But face masks still will be required for unvaccinated people in public places and for everyone in congregate settings, Locke said.
Locke implemented a county-wide order in May 2020 for all residents to wear face masks while in public, including outdoors if they were unable to practice social distancing.
The state adopted guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last month. The guidelines allow those who are fully vaccinated to take off their masks, but Locke and officials in some other counties, such as San Juan and King, decided to maintain their local mandates — although Locke modified his mandate to allow vaccinated residents to be maskless outdoors. The mandates stayed in place to protect businesses, since there was no way for them to determine who had been vaccinated.
“The CDC’s masking recommendations came out in a way that had unintended consequences,” Locke told the board of health commissioners.
“They were interpreted by some as it’s time to end masking and Covid related restrictions abruptly and that’s not a safe thing to do.”
King County’s mask mandate contained a benchmark of 70 percent of 16-olds and up being fully vaccinated to lift universal masking requirements; Jefferson County reached the benchmark almost two weeks ago, Locke said. So masks will not be required indoors by county order, although they will be required for the unvaccinated by the state past June 30.
Everyone also will continue to be required to wear masks under state guidelines in health care settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and schools, Locke said.
The state has not released guidance on how businesses can decide if a customer is vaccinated or not, Locke said.
“There’s still no enforcement mechanism for this, so we’re still left with the same decisions at a local level whether businesses want to actually try to determine vaccination status or not,” Locke said.
It is not a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violation to ask people if they’ve been vaccinated although they are not required to answer, Locke said.
But individual businesses can require people to wear masks in their business even if they are vaccinated, he said.
“Masking at this point is protecting unvaccinated people from each other,” Locke said.
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the final COVID-19 vaccination shot.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]