Governor orders masks worn in public to combat spread of COVID-19

Mere hours before the Bainbridge Island City Council was slated to vote on a new ordinance requiring face coverings be worn in public areas within city limits, they were beaten to the punch by Gov. Jay Inslee, who announced a statewide mandate requiring facial coverings Tuesday.

The gubernatorial order came as new cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Washington and is set to take effect Friday, June 26.

In Tuesday’s conference, Inslee, who was joined by state Health Secretary John Wiesman and the presidents of Costco and the union UFCW 21, called the order especially imperative as normal economic activity begins to resume.

“I think this is the way we need to look at this,” Inslee said. “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 was formally issued by Wiesman, and requires people over the age of 5 to wear face coverings while they are indoors in a public space and outdoors in a public area and social distancing is not possible.

People engaged in recreation alone or with only members of their own household, and also those eating in restaurants, do not have to wear masks as long as they maintain proper distance from others.

Specific exemptions exist for children under the age of 2 (for those 3 to 5 masks are “strongly encouraged” but not required), people who are deaf or have significant hearing loss, and also those with medical conditions exacerbated or complicated by wearing face coverings.

The order builds on previous governmental instruction that has, since June 8, required workers to wear facial coverings unless they don’t directly interact with others while on the job.

During Tuesday’s regular meeting, the the Bainbridge Island City Council had planned to discuss and likely vote on a new, original ordinance requiring face coverings be worn in all public areas within city limits, a measure they’d been refining since the issue was first raised at the June 2 meeting.

Ultimately, the Bainbridge order was put aside for now with the intention it could be revised and enacted later, if needed.

The subcommittee that drafted the ordinance — Councilman Michael Pollock and Councilwomen Kirsten Hytopoulos and Christy Carr — are expected to draft a resolution supporting and endorsing the governor’s order.

San Juan County was the first jurisdiction to enact a mask requirement, with King and Thurston Counties following suit.

Tuesday’s meeting also saw a discussion about possible outreach and education efforts city personnel and volunteers may undertake to support the order, as well as current mask availability and the city potentially purchasing more to be made available to local businesses and nonprofits.

Several other states, including California, have already adopted statewide mask orders, and in Yakima County — which reportedly has nearly as many COVID-19 cases as the entire state of Oregon — Inslee ordered more stringent requirements, hoping to slow the spread of the disease.

Violation of the statewide mandate is reportedly a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. However, Inslee stressed the prime intention of the order was safety and education, not punishment, saying “we don’t want to have enforcement of this.”

Nearly 1,300 people in Washington have died as a result of the virus, with nearly 30,000 people having reportedly tested positive for it.

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