PORT ORCHARD — As of Aug. 14, residents in Kitsap County who are 5 years of age and older are being asked to wear a face-covering mask within indoor public spaces.
The face mask directive was issued on Aug. 13 by Dr. Gib Morrow, health officer for the Kitsap Public Health District (KPHD).
The directive applies to indoor spaces that are open to the public, including retail, grocery stores, government buildings, and other businesses and places where members of the public can enter freely, according to a KPHD news release. It does not apply to indoor non-public spaces, including businesses, offices and other places of employment with limited access. Employers in those settings should continue to follow current guidelines and requirements from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries on worker safety.
“I strongly urge all people in Kitsap County to voluntarily comply with this directive, and direct all businesses open to the public to continue implementing policies and procedures to ensure that their employees and customers wear face masks,” Morrow said in a news release.
“We need everyone to take these steps in order to protect the health of our employees, customers, and our whole community.”
Morrow said the new mask-wearing requirement is necessary in Kitsap County to stem the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases. A fifth wave of increasing COVID-19 transmission has been underway since about July 10, the agency noted, leading to a 591% increase in the seven-day case rate to 152 per 100,000 residents. This case rate exceeds the threshold for “high transmission” as defined by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is expected to surpass the highest disease activity experienced in Kitsap throughout the entire pandemic by the weekend, officials said.
Hospitalizations are at the highest levels of the pandemic as well and climbing rapidly, further straining the healthcare system, Morrow said.
While vaccinations against COVID-19 have been available in Kitsap County since December, just over 52% of all county residents are fully vaccinated. KPHD officials said approximately 100,000 Kitsap County residents 12 years old and older remain unvaccinated. Approximately 38,000 children under the age of 12 in the county remain unvaccinated due to their ineligibility for vaccination, officials said.
The major driver in the increase in COVID-19 cases is the delta variant, according to Dr. Umair A. Shah, Washington state’s Secretary of Health.
“We are extremely concerned by this increased spike in cases, driven by the delta variant, spreading like wildfire amongst men, women and children,” Shah said. “Vaccination is the best tool we have in this pandemic, but we also recommend that individuals mask indoors, and avoid large, crowded settings vaccinated or not.”
In addition to Kitsap County, 11 counties in the state have experienced case increases of between 100 to 299%. Levels are approaching numbers last seen last winter, state officials said. As of July 30, one in 172 Washington state residents was estimated to have an active COVID-19 infection.
“Vaccination progress is continuing, but not fast enough,” Shah said. “If you are unvaccinated and continue to have questions, we encourage you to speak to a trusted healthcare provider.”