Washington’s mandatory mask requirement starts Friday

Gov. Jay Inslee says wearing face coverings 'one of our best defenses' against COVID-19 until vaccine or cure is found

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As COVID-19 cases continue to increase in many Washington counties, Governor Jay Inslee has ordered all Washingtonians to use face coverings while in public indoor and outdoor spaces, beginning Friday, June 26. 

“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.” 

The order makes wearing masks mandatory in public indoor spaces and in public outdoor spaces where the six-foot physical-distancing guideline cannot be met.

Violating the order will be considered a misdemeanor crime punishable of up to $1,000 in fines and 90 days in jail. 

“I think of these face coverings, in some sense, as a statement,” Inslee said. “It’s a statement that when you wear it, it means you care about people, because it means you want to reduce the risk that you are going to infect another person.”

Washington is now one of at least six states that require residents to wear masks in public spaces. 

The governor said research shows wearing a mask is “one of the most effective things people can do to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.” 

“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.”

Inslee had issued a mandatory mask-wearing order for Yakima County on Saturday, June 20, after COVID-19 cases spiked in that eastern Washington county, but said Tuesday he had decided to extend the order to the entire state after learning of increased cases in other counties. 

“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,” Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman said Tuesday.

There are a few people exempt from the mask mandate, including those who have health issues, such as respiratory distress, made worse by wearing a face covering; those who are deaf or hard of hearing; and children younger than 5, although children older than 2 are encouraged to wear masks when possible. The rule also allows for the removal of face coverings when eating in public. 

Last week, the Yakima Health District said skyrocketing COVID-19 cases there have led to critical staffing shortages in Yakima-area hospitals. 

“Across Yakima County, there were 61 COVID-19 positive individuals hospitalized, the highest we have seen to date. Over the past week, all hospitals have reported critical staffing shortages. Many of these shortages are due to staff being out for either having COVID-19, demonstrating COVID-19 symptoms or because they are a close contact to a COVID-19 individual and are now under quarantine,” the Yakima Health District stated in a press release issued June 19, adding the county has the highest rate of COVID-19 infections in Washington and that Yakima County coronavirus patients represent nearly one-fourth of the state’s ventilated patients.