After a week where Washington State reported over 2,600 new COVID-19 cases, on June 23rd, Governor Jay Inslee issued a statewide face covering order. The order was initially only imposed on Yakima County – the current epicenter of coronavirus spread in Washington.
The mandatory face covering order begins Friday, June 26th. The City of Snoqualmie said the ‘Snoqualmie Police Department will continue to educate and advise the public about the importance of face coverings and the governor’s mandate.‘
Gov. Inslee said wearing a face covering will be a legal requirement, but is not cause for more than a ‘gentle word’ for those without masks in public. It is a misdemeanor not to comply, but the governor said it is not intention for police officers to enforce the order. He said he hoped common sense would apply.
This new statewide public health order means all residents over the age of 5 are required to wear masks/face coverings while in public – indoors and outdoors when social distancing cannot be achieved.
There are exemptions for those with pulmonary issues or those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Residents also exempt are when eating at a restaurant or when exercising alone or with members of the same household.
Public Health Secretary John Weisman said masks are a strong tool for fighting the spread of coronavirus, but stated that staying home is still the safest way to fight the virus.
During a Tuesday press conference, Governor Inslee noted the effective reproductive number of the novel coronavirus is on the rise in Eastern and Western Washington, something the DOH warned about in a June 13th report. The target is below 1 and it is above that level statewide, even though the situation if more dire in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties.
The governor said face coverings should help the economy continue to reopen – help Washing alleviate setbacks like the COVID-19 outbreaks other U.S. are currently experiencing during their re-openings.
The CEO of Costco – which requires face coverings in its stores – also participated in the press conference. He explained putting Costco’s mask mandate in place at stores was a learning process, but it’s now ‘business as usual’ and also helps protect its essential workers. He said he supports the statewide mandate.
Currently the rate of infection in Yakima is 27 times higher than King County according to Inslee. He also also noted Yakima is out of hospital beds and some COVID-19 patients are being sent to Seattle for treatment.
Face coverings can be scarves, bandannas, cloth masks that cover the mouth and nose and tightly go over the chin.
King County issued a Face Coverings directive in mid May, but was is a voluntary directive, not a public health order. According to the office of King County Councilmember Kathy Lamber, the new statewide order will supersede King County’s [previous] mask directive.
Inslee said it is likely the face covering order could be in place until a vaccine – or another tool to fight the virus – is available, but also said things can change..