Nobody is happy about Washington’s new mask recommendations.
This week, the exasperation of the governor and health officials with those refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 was matched by some Republican lawmakers angry with the new guidance.
In line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that the state would recommend masks even for vaccinated individuals, who could still spread the mutated virus.
It’s a disappointing reversal of the de-masking guidelines earlier this year, which were welcomed as an optimistic sign of the end of the pandemic. The new recommendation arrives with a fifth wave of infections of the highly-transmissible delta variant, which officials say could be stymied if more people got vaccinated.
“Look: this vaccine works. And frankly, it’s maddening that we have a life-saving medicine that can save people’s lives, that’s free, that we still have to be in this position,” Inslee said.
He added later: “I don’t think it’s too much to ask of a Washingtonian. Even if you don’t care about your own health, how about caring about the kids who can’t get the vaccine right now because they’re not eligible? Maybe care about those kids a little bit. Get a vaccine for them. Maybe get it for some people who are immunocompromised who can’t get the vaccine and are subject to this deadly disease. Maybe give thought to them a little bit.”
Locally, Lewis County’s public health officials announced the same recommendation just an hour earlier, with Public Health Director JP Anderson calling the news “disheartening” and similarly pointing to low vaccination rates as fueling the surge of cases.
But Centralia Republican state Rep. Peter Abbarno’s critiques centered mainly on the governor, criticizing him for his “white-knuckle grip on government” and saying he “continues to move the goal post on all Washingtonians with new, conflicting and confusing messages.”
The new recommendation from the CDC, Washington state and several local health officials is not a mandate — something Inslee highlighted this week to reporters. Many individuals got vaccinated in the hopes of being able to ditch their masks, and officials want to “honor that benefit,” he said.
Aberdeen’s state Rep. Jim Walsh took to Facebook to argue that the recommendation “may make some people wonder why they agreed to the COVID shot.”
Data — including new data from Southwest Washington released this week — shows that the vaccine is highly effective in reducing the risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.
Health officials are aligned in their message that pockets of unvaccinated individuals will drive up COVID-19 cases and deaths. But Walsh also argued that the Democratic governor “said some terrible, divisive things about 30% of the people in Washington” during his news conference.
Walsh critiqued a local health official in his own district as well: Grays Harbor County Health Officer John Bauscher, who joined seven others in a joint statement backing up new CDC mask guidance.
But he added: “Dr. Bauscher is a medical doctor and certainly entitled to his opinions. And, in his capacity as the current Grays Harbor County Health Officer, he’s in a position to make health-related recommendations.”
State Health Secretary Umair Shah told reporters this week that while the state’s new guidance relates to vaccinated individuals, Washington really needs unvaccinated people to wear masks, which they are currently mandated to do.
“I think the challenge we’ve had is really, the people who are unvaccinated are just not doing the right thing by wearing the masks as well,” he said.