As evidence mounts that face coverings help prevent transmission of COVID-19, Gov. Jay Inslee and state Secretary of Health John Wiesman announced a statewide requirement for businesses to require face coverings of all employees and customers.
Businesses may not serve any customer if the customer doesn’t wear a face covering. The order took effect on Tuesday (July 7).
Wearing facial coverings, along with adhering to physical distancing, is one of the most effective ways of stopping the spread of COVID-19, according to the governor’s announcement.
“We’re doing this because of a spike in cases of COVID-19 all over the state,” Inslee said. “The better we can protect ourselves from the virus, the better we can avoid repeating some of the painful measures we had to take in the spring to shut down the economy.”
The new mask requirement adds to previous rules for face coverings. Since June 26, all people have been required to wear a mask in any indoor or outdoor public space. This includes businesses and offices and out-of-doors when people can’t maintain 6 feet of physical distance.
Since early June, the state has required all employees to wear a mask, unless they work alone in an office or a vehicle.
Masks limit the spread of droplets when people talk, cough or sneeze and are a key way of protecting other people from someone who may be infected but have no symptoms, according to Wiesman.
“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.”
There are exemptions for people with certain medical conditions and for children under the age of 2, who should not wear a face covering. Individuals may remove masks while eating or drinking at a restaurant, communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, and in public areas if they can remain at least 6 feet from people outside their household.
Washington is still following a phased approach to re-opening its economy. Seventeen counties are in Phase III, 17 in Phase II, and five in Phase I.
A complicating factor of the different phases – based on different infection rates in counties throughout the state – is that some residents of counties in an early phase travel to neighboring counties for services or activities. This travel increases the risk that people will bring COVID-19 out of their communities, according to Inslee’s statement.
Benton, Franklin and Yakima counties, which have the highest COVID case counts and infection rates, are still in Phase I, which allows only essential businesses to operate.
The state Department of Health (DOH) is now allowing some personal services in these counties. DOH hopes that allowing additional services will reduce the number of infections occurring across county lines.
Okanogan County is in Phase II and, with the current rate of new cases, cannot expect to move to the next phase any time soon, according to Okanogan County Public Health.
Washington has suspended the opportunity for any county to move to the next phase until at least July 16. The state has also changed the rules for bars, even for counties in Phase III. Bars can provide table service, but they can’t serve from the bar, and customers can’t congregate at the bar.