Coronavirus Chronicles

New Face Covering Directive Orders King County to Mask Up

There won’t be any penalty if you don't, though.

By Benjamin Cassidy May 11, 2020

Masks on, approximately six feet apart, cute dogs... Seattle role models.

It’s been clear for a while now that you should wear a mask when you’re in crowded spaces. Face coverings prevent respiratory droplets from flying all over the place and, in turn, help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. But even though the CDC issued this guidance weeks ago, and local officials echoed that recommendation, bare mugs have persisted (we’re looking at you, guy in Aisle 2).

On Monday, a directive from Public Health—Seattle & King County aimed to clear up some of the confusion. Effective May 18 throughout King County, face coverings will be required in indoor public settings and outdoor locations where social distancing of at least six feet isn’t possible. That includes buses, light rail cars, farmers markets, and even curbside pickup locations, King County executive Dow Constantine advised during a press conference. The idea is to make sure we don’t have to stay home any longer than necessary. “By doing this one simple thing, wearing a face covering in a public setting, we can protect essential workers and the most vulnerable and increase the odds that the reopening of our community will be successful,” Constantine said.

The directive notes that all businesses must now post signage recommending mask use (a downloadable example can be found here) and encourages people to opt for fabric face coverings, reserving N95 respirators and medical-grade masks for frontline workers. But it also acknowledges that masking up weighs on people differently. “There is a long history of racism and discriminatory policies that Native, People of Color, immigrant and refugee, LGBTQ communities, homeless, and other marginalized communities have faced in Washington state that may impact an individual’s ability to feel safe while wearing a face covering,” the directive states.

During the press conference, officials urged locals not to harass those who leave their faces uncovered and stressed that there won’t be any arrests related to facial wear. “There’s no penalty for not wearing a face covering. Law enforcement will not be involved with the enforcement of this directive,” said Mattias Valenzuela, Public Health – Seattle & King County equity director.

People with physical disabilities that prevent the use of face coverings do not have to comply with the directive, and children under 12 should only oblige if a parent or caregiver can advise them on how to put on and take off a mask.

To help clear other barriers to mask wearing, the mayor’s office announced that it would distribute more than 45,000 masks to community-based organizations “that serve immigrants and refugees, older adults, people with disabilities, and people experiencing homelessness.” Food banks and meal providers will also receive some of them.

For mayor Jenny Durkan, the need to cover your face as the economy begins to reopen is simple. While the region has made progress in its efforts to fight off Covid-19, she said, “we are far from out of the woods.”

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