At a press conference Wednesday morning, Governor Jay Inslee said Washington will continue masking up in schools and will also "ask people to consider masking in other conditions consistent with CDC recommendations."
Earlier this week the CDC recommended all people living in places with "high and substantial transmission" (which includes us!) should mask up indoors in public places where the vaccination status of others is unknown, regardless of vaccination status.
Inslee stressed that the new masking recommendation for all was a recommendation, but the school masking mandate was a legal requirement.
He called the need to mask up again in public "maddening," but said simply that "not enough people have been vaccinated" in the face of the surging delta variant of COVID-19.
"You might call it the 5th wave, but, whatever you call it the numbers are going up dramatically," he said of the statewide rise in infections and hospitalizations seen in Washington.
The delta variant is twice as transmissible as the original virus, and the "overwhelming amount" of cases are occurring within the unvaccinated population, said Lacy Fehrenbach, Washington Department of Health's deputy secretary of COVID response.
Fehrenbach said the delta variant is up to 70% of current infections, and modeling indicates it'll be 96% of cases shortly.
"There's not just one virus in our state, there's two," Inslee said. "One is the COVID virus, but the second is just as deadly and it's misinformation." He added that "too many of our citizens have been attacked by misinformation," which has caused people "to ask questions about the vaccine."
The state is working on "busting those myths perpetuated by social media" through its Power of Providers Initiative, a program encouraging health care providers to determine the vaccination status of their patients and then begin a conversation about the vaccine.
Inslee was noncommittal when asked whether Washington will follow the lead of California and New York and require vaccines or regular COVID-19 testing for state employees.
He said he didn't want to issue such mandates in order to "honor the incentive" of not needing to wear a mask when vaccinated, and because the state plans to "be doing some things in the coming weeks that we think will increase the vaccination rate." (When asked what exactly the state plans to be doing, he pointed back to the "Power of Providers Initiative," which only launched last week.) He also mentioned the need to talk to "our partners in labor" before laying down a mandate, but he will "consider" vaccine mandates for health care workers "in the coming days."