By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
SEATTLE — Seattle & King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin, along with King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan, announced a new Health Officer Directive via an online news conference on May 11, strongly urging people to wear face coverings in all indoor public places, as well as outside settings where maintaining six feet of social distancing is difficult.
This directive will go into effect on May 18 and remain in effect until rescinded by Duchin.
“As we begin to get back to work, the threat of increasing COVID-19 transmission is serious,” said Duchin. “By wearing a face mask, we protect others from COVID-19 infection and show that we care. Your mask protects me and my mask protects you.”
While data on the effectiveness of face masks is inconclusive, Duchin said there are studies that show a face covering can help prevent the spread of infection to others by blocking droplets when someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks.
“I’d much rather see people lock down their mouths and noses, than lock down their neighborhoods,” said Duchin.
The Directive applies to both workers and patrons of grocery stores, pharmacies, big box stores, and other essential establishments, including pet supplies, auto repairs, and home improvement stores.
Uwajimaya announced its own requirement, starting on May 11, that all of its customers wear a face mask or face covering. The store posted on its website that “all guests over the age of 3 must be wearing a mask or equivalent face covering to enter our stores.”
When asked if private businesses can refuse entrance to customers who won’t wear a mask, Constantine said yes.
Under the Directive, restaurants with carry-out and food delivery must comply as well. Face coverings do not need to be worn outside unless appropriate social distancing cannot be practiced, such as at farmers markets. Exceptions to the Directive include children, people with disabilities, deaf individuals who use facial movements as part of communication, and others. There is no penalty for not wearing a face covering.
Constantine also announced that operators and riders on King County Metro will be required to wear face coverings, though operators will not prevent passengers without face coverings from boarding.
Both King County and the City of Seattle are distributing 115,000 and 45,000 face coverings, respectively, through community-based organizations to vulnerable communities, including people experiencing homelessness, older adults, and staff at food banks.
“Now that face coverings and masks are a part of our new normal, we have to educate our community on how to wear them properly to be safe,” said Michelle Merriweather, president and CEO of Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. “In addition, we have to educate people with power to not see Black and Brown people, especially Black men, as a threat for wearing a face covering in public to protect themselves and those they love.”
Also starting on May 18, the Port of Seattle will require all passengers, visitors, and Port employees to wear cloth face coverings in the public areas of Sea-Tac Airport. The requirement will not apply to certain groups, such as those who cannot medically tolerate facial coverings and very young children. The Port said it had already begun to provide cloth face coverings to staff working in public facing roles on April 17.
A King County news release on the Health Directive stated, “Because face masks such as N95 respirators continue to be reserved for health care workers, residents should use fabric coverings such as cloth masks, scarves, or bandanas.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, cloth face coverings should:
- fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face,
- be secured with ties or ear loops,
- include multiple layers of fabric,
- allow for breathing without restriction,
- be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.
The full Health Officer Directive and summary are posted at kingcounty.gov/masks.