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King County health department not ready to lift indoor mask mandate

Although the state of Washington's mask mandate will expire on March 21, Public Health - Seattle & King County isn't ready to drop the requirement locally.

KING COUNTY, Wash. — Health officials aren't ready to put an expiration date on King County's local indoor mask mandate, despite an announcement that the statewide mandate will end on March 21.

"King County will continue to evaluate the appropriate time to lift the local indoor mask order by considering the number and severity of COVID-19 infections, COVID-19 hospitalizations, and deaths, as well as the ability for hospitals and the healthcare system to manage patient loads," a spokesperson for Public Health - Seattle & King County said in a statement to KING 5. 

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that statewide indoor masking requirements will be lifted in the third week in March when the state is projected to hit its hospital admission rate goal of five per every 100,000 people. Currently, the hospital admission rate is around 20-22 per every 100,000, according to state data.

However, the state's new guidelines include provisions allowing for private businesses, school districts and local governments to maintain or implement their own masking and vaccination guidelines, even after state mandates expire. 

Although cases and hospitalizations are on a downward trajectory, it's not enough for King County health officials to lift the mandate.

"If cases and hospitalizations continue to fall and our hospitals recover and stabilize, as we all hope they will, it is reasonable that we will be at a place to lift the local indoor mask mandate, but we are not there yet," a spokesperson said. 

Public Health will continue watching COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations and plans to reassess the mandate "in the coming weeks."

"Until then, we need to continue to use multiple layers of protection, including wearing high-quality, well-fitting masks while COVID-19 continues to spread at high levels," a spokesperson said.

On Wednesday, King County announced it would drop vaccination verification requirements for bars and restaurants and other businesses beginning on March 1 due to the county's high vaccination rate and declining cases and hospitalizations. 

Business owners are still allowed to require customers to show proof of vaccination or a negative test if they choose to after the requirement expires.

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