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77% of Pierce County residents mask up. That’s not good enough.


Farmers markets and pharmacies have highest compliance with statewide face covering mandate.

How many people wear masks in Pierce County? Are more people wearing masks in Tacoma than in the rest of the county? Does covering your face really prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard questions along these lines. It took 15 people, 48 hours and a review of scientific studies to find the answers.

About a week ago, Health Department staff and volunteers observed people at more than 20 locations across Pierce County. We watched and recorded how many people wore masks at different types of locations. When people wore masks, we watched and recorded if they wore it correctly: full coverage over the nose, mouth, and chin. Here’s what we found:

  • Overall, 77% of those we observed wore a mask, while 66% wore a mask with full coverage.
  • Mask use was similar inside Tacoma (76%) and elsewhere in the County (78%).

COVID19_Breathe responsibly 2_say it_facebook

We conducted our mask use survey July 31 and Aug. 1. We will repeat the survey several times throughout the year.

Most masks were either cloth/sponge (68%) or surgical (29%). The degree of coverage was not associated with mask type.

Mask use varied quite a bit by location. It was high at farmer’s markets (96%) and near drug stores (93%) and low near bars/taverns (63%) and at parks/beaches (40%). The degree of coverage was also much lower at parks/beaches and near bars/taverns; only 40% of observed individuals covered their nose, mouth, and chin at those locations compared to 78% at all other locations combined. Full coverage at transit stations was also lower than average (51%).

We invested this time because research shows masks can decrease the spread of COVID-19. Studies, including from New York City and Washington’s Yakima County, provide evidence masks work.

Across the state and in Pierce County, we have seen a decrease in COVID-19 cases that seems to correspond with Governor Inslee’s “no mask, no service” mandate.

Not all masks offer equal protection. One recent study suggests neck gaiter masks could actually cause COVID-19 particles to form smaller droplets, which can pass along in the air from person to person compared to larger droplets. Surgical masks, with a layer of mesh in the middle of two cloth layers, seems to do the best job of slowing droplets from your mouth.

We must take responsibility for protecting others.

Everyone should take these steps to protect the people you care about:

  • Stay close to home.
  • Wear a mask when you leave home.
  • Limit your interactions to a small circle of friends and family.
  • Keep gatherings small, and outside if possible where fresh air circulates.
  • Stay 6 feet apart from others. Wear a mask when you cannot maintain 6 feet of space.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 if you are experiencing symptoms, are a member of a heavily impacted community—Black, Latinx, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Island, American Indian, Alaska Native—or have participated in any gatherings—social, civic, business, political, athletic or otherwise.
  • Wash your hands, cover your cough, and keep up your best hygiene and sanitation.

Learn more about what you can do to stop the spread and share these messages with others. Visit