Health Officials: Going back to normal doesn’t mean forgetting masks, distance, good hand hygiene; or could risk reopening progress

As many are rejoicing that King County will likely move to phase 2 of reopening this week, state health officials are warning that phase progression could stall – or even move backward – if COVID-19 cases spike again.

For Washington state counties that want to continue progressing through the state’s SafeStart coronavirus recovery plan, health officials say safety precautions like face coverings (masks), six feet of distance, excellent hand hygiene and limiting gatherings are key.

During a June 16th press conference, deputy secretary of health for the state’s COVID-19 response, Lacy Fehrenbach, said, “We have to keep reminding people that going back to normal does not mean letting go of non-pharmaceutical interventions.”

Fehrenbach cited a recent survey of Yakima County – a hot spot of COVID activity – residents that showed about 35% were wearing masks when going to the grocery store or during other essential outings. She said that is far lower than officials would hope to see.

Masks have been a source of great debate on social media as guidance on them has changed during the coronavirus pandemic, but the general consensus of late is that they help.

According to a recent Washington Post article, “Several new studies published this month support wearing masks to curb the transmission of the novel coronavirus. The broadest, a review funded by the World Health Organization and published in the journal Lancet, concluded that data from 172 observational studies indicate wearing face masks reduces the risk of coronavirus infection.”

The state recently put a hold on Benton and Franklin counties requests to move to phase 2 following spikes in COVID-19 cases. Currently Franklin county has a 27.8% positive test rate. Health officials say while there have been outbreaks in correctional and longterm care facilities, they are also seeing significant community spread.

Officials said in addition to Benton and Franklin counties, they’re also seeing significant spread in Yakima county (in phase 1) and Spokane county (in phase 2). They said they’re working to help those counties with safety precaution messaging, along with hospital, testing and quarantine support.

Yakima County issued a face covering directive in early June – about three weeks after King County issued its directive – and has a goal of 80% of residents wearing a mask when physical distance cannot be achieved. Yakima county is also distributing over 300,000 masks to vulnerable populations.

State Health officials also reported some good news at Tuesday’s press conference, including increased testing capacity and the stockpiling of millions of PPE acquired through state and federal channels.

They urged anyone with symptoms or possible exposure be tested as soon as possible.

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