On Tues., Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee and Secretary of Health John Wiesman announced a statewide mandatory face covering order that will take effect Friday, June 26.
The order comes after a Saturday announcement of a mandatory mask proclamation for Yakima County starting this week. The order was in response to reports of increasing case counts and a potential overwhelming of the county’s health care system.
Residents of Yakima County must wear face coverings in public and businesses must require customers and clients to wear masks to operate, and may not serve anyone who enters their business without a face covering, with some limited exceptions.
After subsequent reports of cases increasing in additional counties, the governor and Wiesman extended the face covering requirement today to include the entire state of Washington.
“As necessary economic activity increases and more people are out in their communities, it is imperative that we adopt further measures to protect all of us,” Inslee said during a press conference Tuesday. “Until a vaccine or cure is developed, this is going to be one of our best defenses.”
Starting Friday, every Washingtonian must wear a facial covering when in a public space, as mandated by the public health order signed by Wiesman. This includes both indoor and outdoor public spaces.
“The science is clear that when we use face coverings, we limit the spread of droplets being passed on to others when we talk, cough or sneeze. While some of us are wearing face coverings in public, we must increase usage to best control the virus. Washington’s strategy to restart the economy and get people back to work will only be successful if, together, we act safely and follow health recommendations,” Wiesman said.
Wearing a mask is one of the most effective things people can do to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Recent models suggest that the incidence of COVID-19 cases can be reduced if the majority of the population are wearing masks. This correlation has been seen in other countries that have been able to lower the curve through mask usage.
As with previous orders, there will be specific exemptions for those who may be adversely impacted by wearing a facial covering. These exemptions include those with certain medical conditions and children under the age of two, who should not wear a face covering. Children aged two, three and four are encouraged, but not required, to wear a face covering in public with the assistance and supervision of an adult.
In addition, individuals may remove face coverings under certain circumstances, including while eating or drinking at a restaurant; while communicating with a person who is Deaf or hard of hearing; and while outdoors in public areas, provided that a distance of six feet is maintained from people who are not members of their household.
The order is in addition to the other guidelines counties must follow in each phase of reopening. Physical distancing, appropriate and regular sanitation actions and other requirements are still expected from Washingtonians and businesses. Businesses are already required to adopt face coverings or more protective requirements for their employees. In cases where local officials or other agencies have also adopted face covering requirements, the more protective requirement must be followed.
Face coverings will help protect the health of Washingtonians and our communities, including essential workers and those returning to the workforce as counties advance phases. Such a requirement will be much more effective when the majority of the population wears masks.
“Essential workers face higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 in order to serve our communities. Many are already required to wear masks at work for 8 to 12 hours or longer, and we do that to help keep everyone safe. We’re very glad the public is joining in and we appreciate the governor’s proclamation, because face coverings are most effective when we’re all wearing them to protect each other. The safety of workers and our entire community, and the stability of our health care system, is dependent on customers and patients joining in a shared effort to prevent transmission and keep bending the curve. To all our customers and patients: We care for you and your family. When you come into a store, pharmacy or clinic wearing a face covering, we see you caring about us and our families. We know we can protect each other,” said Faye Guenther, president of UFCW21.
As more counties progress through the phased approach to re-opening, it’s even more important to follow the order and phase guidelines in order to help reopen the economy.
“Masking up is not just something that saves lives, it can save economies,” Inslee said. “If we don’t want to turn the dial back on phases in counties, we need every Washingtonian to join us in this effort.”