Thurston County Residents Should Still Wear Masks, Physically Distance Indoors, Health Officer Says


Thurston County's top health official is urging residents to continue wearing masks in public indoor spaces despite new masking guidance from the state and federal government.

In a letter to the community released on Wednesday, Health Officer Dimyana Abdelmalek is asking residents to be careful in public settings because most of the county population is still not vaccinated.

"I ask all of you to exercise caution and continue masking in public indoor spaces, even if you are fully vaccinated, until at least 70% of our community is fully vaccinated," Abdelmalek wrote. "Unvaccinated people must continue to wear a mask."

Abdelmalek's public plea comes nearly two weeks after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced fully vaccinated individuals could go without masks in most settings. Since then, the Washington state Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Industries have updated their guidance in accordance with the CDC's.

Just 38.7% of the total Thurston County population had been fully vaccinated and 45.7% had received at least one dose as of Monday, per the latest state data. When considering only those 16 and older, state data show 56.6% have received at least one dose and 47.9% have been fully vaccinated in Thurston County.

The county's vaccination rate had fallen behind the state, but is still overall better than all its neighboring counties, according to state data. Across the state, 49.2% of the population had received at least one dose of a vaccine, with 41.2% now fully vaccinated, per the data.

Abdelmalek implored residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"If you aren't yet vaccinated, please get vaccinated as soon as possible," Abdelmalek wrote. "Vaccines are safe, effective, and widely available now."

She affirmed recent state and federal guidance on masks reflect the safety and efficacy of the three available COVID-19 vaccines, but noted the county is still far from vaccinating 70% of the population before the planned statewide reopening on June 30.

Over the past several weeks, the largest portion of COVID-19 cases in Thurston County have come from people under 19 years old, many of whom are still ineligible for a vaccine, Abdelmalek wrote.

"Children can become very ill with COVID-19 and may be absent from school or childcare if they are sick or have been exposed to the virus for a prolonged period of time," Abdelmalek wrote. "We need everyone's help to protect our community's children and keep them safe, healthy, and learning."

Children 12 or older have been eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine with parent or guardian consent for just two weeks. Two other available vaccine brands — Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are still not authorized for people younger than 18.

COVID-19 transmission rates have fallen across the state and the United States as vaccines have become more widely available, but county transmission rates have remained high.

Abdelmalek acknowledged the heightened COVID-19 activity in her letter but added county transmission rates have plateaued in recent weeks.

"Today our transmission rate is 191.1 cases per 100,000 population over 14 days and our test positivity rate is 6.3%," Abdelmalek wrote. "I have also seen an increase number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities and schools."

The case rate Abdelmalek cited reflects the latest state data for the two-week time period between May 4-17. This case rate has declined from the most recent peak of 216.5 cases per 100,000 between April 20 and May 3, per state data. Updated data released Wednesday indicated the county had a case rate of 185.9 per 100,000 between May 5-18.

"We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I know if we keep taking precautions for just a short while longer, the health of our county and community will be better off for it," Abdelmalek wrote.

In separate letter released Wednesday, Abdelmalek informed school superintendents and heads of schools that she doesn't anticipate case rates to impact schools in the near term.

"Based on our current trends, I do not anticipate a need for schools to modify current learning modalities for K-12 students for the remainder of this school year," she wrote. "I recommend each school and district continue to work to mitigate COVID-19 risks by following the Washington state Department of Health key principles for reducing COVID-19 exposure at school."

Thurston County Public Health and Social Services is continuing to offer free vaccination events every week. Although no longer required, people are still encouraged to pre-register for these events through the state's PrepMod website.

* On Friday, May 28, there will be a Johnson & Johnson clinic from 1 to 5 p.m. for people 18 or older in the Sephora parking lot at the Capital Mall in west Olympia.

* On Friday, May 28, there will be a Pfizer clinic from 5 to 8:15 p.m. for people 12 or older at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia.

* On Saturday, May 29, there will be a Johnson & Johnson clinic from 1 to 5 p.m. for people 18 or older in the Sephora parking lot at Capital Mall in west Olympia.

* On Sunday, May 30, there will be a Pfizer clinic from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for people 12 or older at SPSCC's Olympia campus.

Residents also can find appointments at local providers such as pharmacies by visiting the state's Vaccine Locator website. Some supermarket pharmacies are taking walk-ins for vaccines.

Those with difficulty scheduling appointments online can call the Department of Health vaccine hotline at 888-856-5816 or the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services line at 360-867-2610. Information for Spanish speakers is available at these numbers as well.

People interested in volunteering at PHSS vaccine events can sign up through the United Way of Thurston County website. Anyone with questions or concerns about volunteering can call 360-943-2773.