As the number of COVID-19 cases in King County continues to surge, a new countywide directive strongly urges residents to wear face coverings in most public settings, such as grocery stores and food businesses.
King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin issued the order Monday, May 11. Although individuals are encouraged to comply with the measure, which went into effect Monday, May 18, there is no legal penalty for failing to wear a face-covering in public.
“By wearing a face mask, we protect others from COVID-19 infection and show that we care,” Duchin said. “Your mask protects me and my mask protects you. Be safe, maintain space and cover your face."
Duchin said wearing a face covering can help prevent the spread of the virus to others by blocking contagious droplets shared through speaking, coughing and sneezing, especially by someone who may be infected but feels well.
But he added masks are not a substitute for existing guidance to maintain a six-foot physical distance in public and emphasizes people still need to perform frequent hand hygiene with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
“Our state is poised to loosen some social distancing restrictions, but only if the rate of infection continues to decline,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. “For us to be able to confidently walk the path to greater normalcy, we must do everything possible to keep people safe and avoid a rebound in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.”
The Washington State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend cloth face coverings in public settings where individuals cannot maintain six feet of distance from others. Face masks are not needed for outside activity, such as walking, exercising, and sitting in the park, if people can keep a safe distance from one another.
"We must ask people to take the steps, informed by public health, to once again change everyday life in service of the health of all,” Constantine said. “By doing this one thing – wearing a face-covering in public settings – we can do more to protect our most vulnerable, and increase the odds that the limited resumption of activities will be successful."
The directive encourages the use of face coverings at grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, health clinics, retail stores, restaurants and food businesses, farm and produce stands, cannabis shops, and similar places. The measure also applies to buses, light rail and other forms of transportation.
"As we begin to get back to work, the threat of increasing COVID-19 transmission is serious,” Duchin said. “We should do all we can to prevent spread to our friends, neighbors and all community members.”
Face coverings can be either factory-made or created from household items, such as scarfs, t-shirts, bandanas, or towels. They can also be crafted from a variety of materials, including fleece, cotton, or linen. Additionally, a sewn mask can be secured with ties or straps around the head or behind the ears.
Exceptions to the health directive include children, people with disabilities, deaf individuals who use facial movements as part of communication and others. The order will be in effect until it is no longer needed and rescinded by Duchin.
The county is currently distributing 115,000 face coverings and masks through community-based organizations, according to the health department.