Last week, a statewide mandate went out to Washingtonians to wear face coverings when out in public. The order was issued by State Health Secretary John Wiesman and took effect on Friday, June 26.
"At the beginning [of the pandemic], people who had the disease [COVID-19] infected close to three people for every person that was infected," Said Governor Jay Inslee during a press call on Tuesday, June 23. "That was when the number of people who were infected exploded exponentially. We [Washington] drove that number down dramatically. We did that because Washingtonians were committed and disciplined and caring for one another when we did our social distancing."
"It was very painful for us because we had to shut some of our businesses in order to maintain social distancing," Inslee continued. "As we have reopened our economy, that social distancing strategy has not been available to us as we become closer to one another. As a result, what we are seeing is that the number of people that one person infects is now going up. So unfortunately I have to share with you that even though we have been resourceful and committed as we have reopened our economy, as we have shed some of our social distancing, we are now experiencing higher activity of the virus. Is this just a hypothetical concern? Unfortunately, it is not."
Inslee went on to share just how bad things are getting outside of Pacific County. Currently the epicenter of Washington's coronavirus epidemic is Yakima County. It is so intense that it has overwhelmed the health care system. Patients are being transported from Yakima County to Seattle and other places set up to treat COVID-19.
"It is so challenging that now we are going to have to engage a different service to transport patients out of their home county to get treatment," explained Inslee. "There's no room in the hospitals. This is something that we saw in New York. It's something we saw in Italy. It's something we're seeing in Yakima County today. And we do not want to see that condition spread across the state of Washington. So today we are adopting an additional and new strategy regarding the use of facial coverings to the state of Washington."
According to Inslee the use of facial coverings is to reduce the transmission rate of COVID-19. This is just another tool to use to stay healthy as the economy reopens.
"We cannot wish this virus to go away," said Inslee. "We have to use tools that are available to us that we know that work."
"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. "Until a vaccine or cure is developed, this is going to be one of our best defenses."
Most people in Washington must wear masks when outside or inside when there are others present. There are exceptions to the facial covering order. Children under the age of 5 do not have to wear a mask, but the state recommends that children ages 3 and up wear a mask. Wiesman mentioned that kids ages 2 and under should not wear a face mask. The CDC and The American Academy of Pediatrics explain that children this young are at risk of suffocation if they wear masks. This is not a concern for children ages 3 and up.
Other people exempt from the mandate are people who are deaf or hard of hearing. People with breathing problems can keep them off. Also customers eating in restaurants may eat without trying to keep their nose and mouth covered.
If people are more than six feet apart from someone else outside, then they can remove their facial covering. Also if they are outside with their household members, they do not have to mask up.
"We're encouraging people to do this," said Pacific County Sheriff Robin Souvenir. It is a misdemeanor to willfully disobey the order. If you see someone without a face covering, be aware that some people have conditions and circumstances that make covering their mouth and nose difficult or dangerous. The advice is to just wear your covering and stay 6 feet away from the unprotected person.
On June 8, another mask mandate went out from the Governor's office that all employees are required to wear a cloth facial covering, except when they are alone and there is no in-person interaction. L&I is enforcing the business order and businesses in noncompliance are in danger of losing their operating licenses.
Both Inslee and Wiesman noted that wearing facial coverings are not substitutes for other health precautions. Everyone still needs frequent hand washing and maintaining social distancing. Get tested if you have symptoms and stay home if you feel sick.
"We obviously have to use our common sense," said Inslee. "This order does not replace other requirements regarding social distancing, sanitation, safety, and health requirements."
There is no end date defined for this order, so expect it to stay in place until there is a COVID-19 vaccine or cure.