PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Governor Jay Inslee announced the state is recommending people mask up indoors once again.
Gov. Inslee held a press conference on Wednesday morning to discuss the rising COVID-19 cases and the state’s plan to mitigate the surge. He said the state is going along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance, which recommends masking up indoors — even if you’re vaccinated.
Inslee also announced Washington schools will be opening this fall with a mask requirement still in place.
“We will continue our safe practices for our students and our young people, and we will ask people to consider masking in conditions consistent with CDC recommendations,” Inslee began.
As the state opens its K-12 schools in just over a month, all students and staff will be required to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status. This is a continuation of existing policies for schools, which is a legal requirement that all districts will need to follow.
“We want to keep our schools open. We don’t want to see waves of this virus going through the schools and forcing the closure of these schools,” he said. He said if numbers go back down in the coming months, the policy will be revisited.
He discussed how the COVID-19 delta variant is surging across the region and throughout the country. In Clark County alone, Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick told KOIN 6 News COVID-19 cases are double what they were a week ago.
“[The delta variant] is twice as infectious, it is more likely to cause serious illness and it is easily the most dangerous mutation to date of this virus — and we know this curve is trending upward,” Inslee said. “You might think of this as a new virus, in some sense, given how different it is from the previous virus mutations.”
He explained the science makes it very clear that there is only one way out of this pandemic — more vaccinations. Until more people get vaccinated, Inslee says they will remain cautious.
Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah echoed Inslee’s sentiment, saying the current transmission data shows these steps are what’s best to protect Washingtonians at this time.
“It is unfortunate we’re in this position because we have the tools to beat this — we have the tools to break the back of this COVID pandemic,” Inslee said. “But there are too many people who although they have access to a free, life-saving vaccine, have not availed themselves of that. It’s an effective, safe tool. We know it works, but we have challenges getting enough people to actually take the vaccine.”
In April and May, Washington was hitting more than 60,000 vaccinations per day. At this point, those numbers have dramatically decreased to single-digit numbers. Inslee cited rampant misinformation as a large contributor to vaccine hesitancy — and encouraged people to discuss any concerns with their doctors.
The vaccination rate is still under 60% of the adult population in Clark County.
“If I may, I don’t think it’s too much to ask of a Washingtonian. Even if you don’t care about your 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,” Inslee said emphatically. “Maybe get it for some people who are immunocompromised and can’t get the vaccine and are subject to this disease. Maybe give thought to them a little bit.”
Nick Streuli, the executive director for external affairs for the Office of the Governor, said the state has brought health care professionals and public health officials together to brainstorm solutions on how to convince more people to get the shot.
Inslee did thank those who have already received the vaccine.
Meanwhile, the Oregon Health Authority updated its guidance Tuesday evening and recommended everyone – vaccinated or not – wear masks in all indoor public settings. This was in response to a reported “sharp rise” in Oregon COVID cases.
This is a developing story. KOIN 6 News will provide updates as new information becomes available.