Gov. Jay Inslee talks about schools reopening during a past news conference. (Screenshot courtesy of TVW)

Gov. Jay Inslee talks about schools reopening during a past news conference. (Screenshot courtesy of TVW)

Masks required at big outdoor events; vaccine mandates expanded

Governor’s mask order takes effect Sept. 13.

Masks will be required at large, outdoor events across Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday (Sept. 9).

Effective Sept. 13, all attendees, regardless of vaccination status, at gatherings of more than 500 people must mask up to blunt the spread of COVID-19’s fifth wave, which is pushing hospitals statewide toward crisis standards of care.

The governor added that he’s considering a statewide vaccine verification system for certain indoor businesses, similar to one being planned in King County.

His updated masking order mirrors those imposed in King and Pierce counties last week. It comes three weeks after the governor announced he was reinstating Washington’s requirement for everyone older than 5 to wear masks indoors.

The fifth wave, experts say, is the direct result of not enough people getting vaccinated paired with the more contagious delta variant.

“We’ve got to understand how severe this is,” Inslee said. “More people die of COVID every three days than died on September 11 in the terrorist attacks. This is not a time for little tiny baby steps.”

While “breakthrough” cases and hospitalizations among those who have been vaccinated are becoming more common, vaccines still provide strong protection, experts say, especially in preventing admission to an ICU.

In Olympia, Inslee and Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah again pleaded with unvaccinated Washingtonians to get their shots.

“I’ve heard some people say it’s an individual decision. That is just so far from the truth,” Inslee said. “The fact is when you make a decision to not be vaccinated, it is not just about your health, it is about the health of everyone around you. We need people to stop thinking so much about me, and start thinking more about we.”

Those skeptical about vaccines should consult their doctor, not conspiracy theories or social media misinformation, he added.

The requirement comes one month after the governor mandated that state employees and contractors, private health care workers and employees of schools and colleges be vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-October or face the potential loss of their job.

Mask and vaccine mandates are among the steps Inslee and local leaders are pursuing in response to a continuing surge in coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths, the majority occurring among unvaccinated Washingtonians. It’s pushed the health care system to its limits.

Locally and nationwide, some elected leaders are looking to other tools to blunt the fifth wave.

In King County, officials announced a vaccine verification system for businesses, which will be required to check that customers have received their shots. The plan follows policies in New York City and San Francisco, as well as Clallam and Jefferson counties.

The verification system could be ready by October and would likely apply to restaurants, bars and other indoor settings.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks, Mariners, Kraken, Sounders and University of Washington all announced they would adopt plans to require sports fans to show proof of vaccination.

On Sept. 9, President Joe Biden announced a sweeping mandate that requires upwards of 100 million Americans to get vaccinated.

Under a forthcoming rule from the federal Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, all employers with 100 or more workers must require their staff to get vaccinated or be tested weekly for the coronavirus.

The department will also require employers to give staff paid time off for vaccine appointments and sick leave if they experience symptoms post-vaccination.

Companies that don’t comply could receive a $14,000 fine per violation.

Additionally, all federal employees and contractors must get their shots. So must workers at hospitals and other health care settings that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding.

It’s unclear when the new rules will take effect, though the White House said workers would have sufficient time to arrange for appointments.


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