SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee's mandate requiring people to wear face masks in most public settings goes into effect Friday.
The move comes as an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, as Inslee said the state has seen a concerning rise in cases since counties started moving through phases of the state reopening plan.
The announcement has led to a lot of questions, such as how it will be enforced, what the penalty will be for disobeying it, and what exceptions are being made where face coverings won't be required.
These are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about new face covering rules.
When is the order effective?
The order goes into effect Friday, June 26. It will last indefinitely, and Inslee said it may last until a vaccine or cure of some type is made available.
What kind of mask or covering do I need?
Any type of face covering is acceptable under the order. It just needs to be able to cover your nose and mouth at the same time. This means that coverings can range from heavy-duty N95 masks and surgical masks to cloth coverings such as scarfs and bandanas.
Where can I get a mask if I don't have one?
Chances are that, due to the wide range of masks and coverings included in the order, you already have one on hand. A simple scarf satisfies the requirement.
If not, many department stores sell cloth coverings that would meet requirements, but masks such as N95s and surgical masks may be harder to find.
If stores run out of stock, many cloth coverings and masks are available through online retailers.
Where are mask or coverings required?
A mask or face covering is required in all public indoor settings. They are also required in any outdoor public setting where social distancing of six feet isn't possible.
Basically, if its an area where people are in close proximity to those they don't live with, a face covering or face mask will be required. But there are some common-sense exceptions to this order.
Outdoor areas where people can stay at least six feet apart won't require face masks or coverings. If a face mask or covering would interfere with breathing during an outdoor recreational activity, it can be removed.
Also, when eating or drinking at a restaurant, a mask or covering won't be required.
Can I get an exception to the rule?
There are specific cases where exceptions will be granted.
People with respiratory or cardiac conditions that make wearing masks dangerous or risky will be provided exception and won't have to wear a covering. These people do not have to disclose the medical condition to others due to privacy laws such as HIPAA.
The same goes for the deaf and hard of hearing, if wearing a mask or covering will inhibit their ability to communicate.
Children are encouraged to wear masks, but those under five won't be held to the rule. Inslee said children under the age of two shouldn't wear masks.
What happens if I don't wear a mask or covering?
Inslee said he hopes this will lead to a shift in culture where the usage of face coverings isn't just socially acceptable, but actually expected.
Inslee also said that he hopes education will be enough for people to begin wearing masks in an effort to keep those around them safe, but if not, the order is legally enforceable.
Violating the order can result in a misdemeanor, but authorities are instead focusing on education and engagement with the community.
"Washington law enforcement agencies continue to focus on education and engagement regarding state orders related to the coronavirus crisis. The statewide face covering order is a public health and safety measure, it is not a mandate for law enforcement to detain, cite or arrest violators," reads a statement from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
"Law enforcement has always had discretion on enforcement based on individual situations and resources. Sheriffs and Chiefs will continue to communicate and make decisions in the interest of public safety within our counties and cities," the statement continues.
Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said on Thursday that an enforcement is an option, but he doesn't to have to use it. If there are repeat offenders, Lutz could issue an order that would be enforced by Spokane police.
Have any businesses in Spokane County been fined for ignoring the statewide mask mandate?
Lutz says the Spokane Regional Health District has received a number of complaints about businesses and has forwarded those on to Labor and Industries.
Why is Inslee requiring masks or coverings now?
For one, the science on mask usage has become a lot clearer: they help slow the spread of viruses.
Also, more industries have been reopened in Washington, meaning social distancing has been harder to follow. This has resulted in many places, including Spokane County, seeing a spike in new cases. To keep flattening to curve, or to re-flatten it, and to do so without closing businesses back down, mask usage will be key.
Spokane County residents will need to wear masks in order for the county to move on to Phase 3 of reopening, Lutz said on Wednesday.
“I truly believe that if we want to move forward that we need to be performing this very selfless act of wearing face coverings in public when you can’t physically distance," he said.