OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday announced a statewide mandate requiring facial coverings in public to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, as cases again begin to rise in Washington.
And for Yakima County — which has nearly as many COVID-19 cases as the state of Oregon and where hospital capacity has maxed out — Inslee ordered even more stringent requirements to make sure people cover their faces while at businesses.
The orders are set to take effect Friday.
In a news conference where he was joined by state Health Secretary John Wiesman and the presidents of both Costco and the union UFCW 21, Inslee called the orders imperative as economic activity increases.
“I think this is the way we need to look at this,” said the governor. “We just cannot wish this virus to go away. We have to use tools that are available to us that we know, that work.”
The statewide mandate — which will be formally issued by State Health Secretary John Wiesman — requires people over the age of 5 to wear face coverings while at any indoor or outdoor space in public.
While children under 5 are exempt, the order recommends kids between the ages of 3 and 5 wear facial coverings.
Also exempt from the governor’s order: people who are deaf or hard of hearing, specifically in scenarios when they are communicating with another person.
And the order will recognize times where it is allowable for people to remove their masks, such as when they are eating at a restaurant, or engaged in a recreational activity either alone or with members of their household.
For Yakima County, Inslee went even further. The governor is set to issue an emergency proclamation that will specifically bar businesses from operating, or allowing customers to enter any business, unless that customer has a facial covering.
The governor’s exemptions, however, will also exist under this order.
Inslee announced on Saturday he would put in place an order on masks for Yakima County.
It comes as health officials try to get a handle on the increasing spread of the virus in the county of about 255,000 people. Yakima County through the end of Sunday had reported 6,326 cases of COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health. Yakima County remains in the first, most restrictive of the state’s four-part reopening plan.
Officials meanwhile are trying to keep infections down across the state as businesses reopen in phases as part of Inslee’s four-part recovery plan.
On Monday, Snohomish County reported its largest single-day number of confirmed COVID-19 case since April 9. County officials announced a total of 75 new cases.
For some Yakima business owners, it doesn’t matter whether or not they agree with Tuesday’s masking directive: They’ll follow it to ensure their business’ survival. Many businesses in the county won’t reopen until the infection rate falls.
“Businesses just want to be open,” said Melissa DeRosier, the owner of Nouveau Spa and Salon in western Yakima. The salon’s eight hairdressers are out of work, and DeRosier’s federal coronavirus aid is about to expire.
“We’re afraid the whole valley will just be a ghost town. Some clients aren’t going to like it (wearing a mask), but if they’re going to want to get their hair done, they’re going to have to do it.”
The number of Yakima residents wearing masks while shopping has nearly doubled from late May, according to a Yakima Health District survey.
By mid-June, nearly 65% of residents wore masks while shopping.
That means that nearly 35% of Yakima residents aren’t covering their faces in public. Nestor Hernandez, the president of Yakima’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said he sees a divide between how people behave when they’re on and off the clock.
“A lot of agricultural workers wear the mask at work but as soon as they get off work, it’s like everything is back to normal,” he said.
“It’s hard culturally. Everyone’s anxious to be out shopping.”