Inslee renews mask requirement for large outdoor gatherings

Gov. Jay Inslee announces new masking requirements Thursday.

OLYMPIA — Strain on hospital rooms and COVID-19 infections at large outdoor gatherings led Gov. Jay Inslee today to mandate facial masks again for large outdoor gatherings, as well as indoor public spaces.

Inslee said in a press conference he’ll order masking for everyone at large outdoor gatherings of 500 or more people, pointing to the July 30-Aug. 1 Watershed Festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre. The Grant County Health District estimates more than 230 people contracted the novel coronavirus at that popular country music event, which drew more than 25,000 attendees.

“For anyone wondering why we’re doing this, I  guess it should be pretty obvious,” Inslee said, wearing his own mask for the indoor press conference. “It’s because we’re seeing evidence unfortunately of infections in outdoor settings.”

The new order goes into effect Monday.

The delta variant of COVID-19 has become the dominant strain of the virus in the United States, responsible for most new infections and moving more rapidly than prior iterations. The new cases have led to more than 33,000 current hospitalizations, including 58 total inpatients reported Wednesday at Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee.

“When you combine large crowds with the delta variant, without any mitigation measures in place, we’re going to keep seeing these superspreader events, even in outdoor environments,” Inslee said.

The measure is similar to those adopted earlier by King and Pierce counties. Inslee and Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah urged Washingtonians to seek vaccination if they have not already received their COVID-19 shots.

“We are asking out community members to do the right thing by getting vaccinated, masking up and certainly doing everything they can to support the cause of fighting this pandemic,” Shah said.

There have been 6,745 deaths in Washington attributed to COVID-19.