Inslee orders businesses to require masks, halts phase advancement applications

With a spike in COVID-19 case counts across the state, Gov. Jay Inslee has announced a statewide order mandating businesses to require face coverings for all employees and customers.

The proclamation is an extension of the face-covering order that was implemented in the last week of June for residents out in public — now businesses are not allowed to serve any customers goods or services if they are not in compliance with the statewide order.

“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,” said Department of Health Secretary Jonathan Wiesman. “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.”

Kitsap County added 88 new cases in June and nine more through the first few days of July. Many of Washington’s most populous counties are seeing similar increases.

“We’re doing this because of a spike in cases of COVID-19 all over the state,” Inslee said in a press conference announcing the order. “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.”

Although the state is allowing the last three counties in Phase 1 to move into a modified version of the phase — Franklin, Benton and Yakima, which have seen some of the biggest recent spikes in infections — Inslee is otherwise putting the brakes on any further advancement for all counties, even those with relatively few cases. The move to a modified Phase 1 has been implemented in the hopes of containing the spread by allowing some services and activities to prevent residents from going beyond county lines.

Any application currently under review by the Department of Health will not be considered until July 16. Kitsap County had submitted an application on June 19, which was then put on hold as the county saw several COVID-19 outbreaks, including three linked to long-term care facilities.

The state has also made modifications to Phase 3 — bars are no longer allowed to serve from the bar where people congregate. They still may provide table service as allowed under Phase 3 guidelines.

“I would love to tell you when this emergency will be over, but emergencies, by nature, work by their own rules, not ours,” Inslee said. “Until there are widely available treatments to suppress the spread and the effects of COVID-19, this fight continues,” Inslee said. “I know Washingtonians are up for the task.”