State Health Department, CDC recommend wearing simple cloth masks

State Health Department, CDC recommend wearing simple cloth masks
Judit Gebhardt of Washington state said it takes just four pieces of fabric, some thread and a couple of ponytail holders to make a mask cover. (KIRO7.com)

SEATTLE — As the number of coronavirus cases continue to rise in Washington, the Washington state Department of Health, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, are now recommending that people wear non-medical cloth face coverings when they are in public places where they can’t stay 6 feet away from others.

This might include trips to the grocery store, pharmacy, hardware store, health clinic or similar locations.

“Recent information suggests that a significant portion of persons with COVID-19 may not have any symptoms, and even those who do have symptoms can transmit the infection before showing signs of illness,” the state DOH said in a news release Friday.

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The DOH emphasizes that the recommendation is not a substitute for staying 6-feet away from people outside of their household, and doing frequent hand washing with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

“It is critical that this guidance does not put increased demand on medical-grade masks, such as N95 respirators and surgical masks. This guidance is for cloth face coverings only,” DOH said.

So what is considered to be a cloth face covering?

It’s simply fabric that covers the nose and mouth and can be:

  • A sewn mask secured with ties or straps around the head or behind the ears
  • A piece of fabric tied around a person’s head.
  • Made from variety of materials, such as fleece, cotton or linen.
  • Factory-made or made from household items such as scarfs, T-shirts or towels.

Those who do wear a face covering should wash their hands before and after touching and adjusting the mask.

DOH says you should wash your masks frequently, ideally after each use, or at least daily. Masks should be washed with detergent and hot water and dried on a hot cycle.

No one is required to wear a face covering, but it is considered to be an additional layer of protection.

Visit the Washington State Department of Health website for the full guidance document.

The statewide death toll as reported by the Department of Health had reached 310 among 7,591 confirmed coronavirus cases as of 11:59 p.m. Friday.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the counties with the highest totals: King County has 200 deaths among 2,865 cases; Snohomish County has 45 deaths among 1,398 cases; Pierce County has 8 deaths among 493 cases.

Click here to see where other counties in the state stand.

Key coronavirus updates:

Information from local officials

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars of spending in hopes of making a dent in the loss of state revenues as the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep the state’s economy largely shut down.

Inslee vetoed nearly two dozen bills in their entirety, as well as more than 140 separate budget items in the state supplemental budget that will save the state $445 million over the next three years.

The vetoes include a bill that created a pilot program to review and vacate criminal convictions based on current statutory eligibility requirements and another bill that established recycled content requirements for plastic beverage containers.

Also vetoed was a bill creating a prescription drug affordability board.

The budget section vetoes range from money to add about 370 K-12 guidance counselors statewide to spending on paraeducator training.

Also eliminated were a variety of task forces and studies. All of the veto letters state that circumstances “have changed dramatically” since the budget was approved by the Legislature last month.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is having catastrophic effects on the health and welfare of Washingtonians,” Inslee’s veto messages read. “It will also have a major impact on the economic health of our state. I have conferred with leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate, and we agree that we must prepare for the effects of the lost revenue that will result from this pandemic.”

When the Legislature adjourned March 12, there were just over 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, and fewer than 40 deaths. The last bill lawmakers passed before they left town was a measure drawing $200 million from the state’s emergency “rainy day” fund, with $175 million going to the public health system and the remainder to a dedicated unemployment fund.

Three weeks later, more than half of that money has been spent.

Inslee signed the budget a day after he extended the stay-at-home order through May 4, and as deaths and cases in Washington continue to increase.

Inslee on Thursday extended the state’s stay-at-home order through May 4. The order was previously set to expire on April 6. The restrictions remain the same: schools will remained closed, gatherings are not permitted and only essential travel and work is permitted. All businesses other than those deemed essential will remain closed. Businesses that are working remotely can continue to do so.

Information from the White House, federal officials

President Donald Trump says his administration is encouraging many Americans to wear face masks in public, though he stresses that the recommendation is optional and is conceding that he will not be complying with it.

The new guidelines, announced Friday, encourage people to use more rudimentary covering like T-shirts, bandannas and non-medical masks. And President Donald Trump himself suggested scarves could be an good alternative to masks.

Medical-grade masks, especially N95 masks, are to be reserved for those on the front lines of trying to contain the pandemic.

The policy change comes as public health officials are concerned that those without symptoms can spread the virus which causes COVID-19.

While these new recommendations were being announced Friday evening, the U.S. death toll increased to 7,077 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

How you can protect yourself and what to do if you think you were exposed

Symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Patients reportedly have mild to severe respiratory illness. These are steps health officials recommend to protect yourself:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.
  • Stay at home and away from others if you are feeling ill.
  • Washington State Department of Health: What to do if you have confirmed or suspected coronavirus disease
  • Washington State Department of Health: What to do if you were potentially exposed to someone with confirmed coronavirus disease
  • If you are in King County and believe you were exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19, or if you’re a healthcare provider with questions about COVID-19, contact: coronavirus@kingcounty.gov.
  • For general concerns and questions about COVID-19, call the Washington State Novel Coronavirus Call Center at 800-525-0127 and press #.

Cases and guidelines for senior living facilities

Senior living facilities have been the focal point of the state’s fight against the spread of coronavirus, as health officials said older adults with preexisting conditions are the most vulnerable. Inslee announced new rules around nursing homes and assisted living facilities centered around visitors, screening, and precautionary measures.

  • Visitors must be adults and the visit must take place in the resident’s room. This does not apply to end-of-life situations.
  • All visitors must follow COVID-19 screening and follow reasonable precautionary measures. Precautionary measures include, but are not limited to, wearing personal protective equipment, social distancing, or visiting in designated locations.
  • All visitors must sign into a visitor’s log. Owners and operators must retain that log for 30 days.
  • Employees or volunteers must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms at the start of each shift.
  • People who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities and who test positive for COVID-19 must be isolated away from other people.
  • Owners, operators, staff and volunteers are prohibited from disclosing protected and confidential health information, except as otherwise provided by law or with the resident’s consent.
  • The rules are expected to be in effect until midnight on April 9, 2020.

Colleges no longer meeting in person

The University of Washington, Western Washington University and Washington State University all moved to online classes and will continue to do remote instruction through spring quarter.

Seattle Pacific University, Shoreline Community College, Pacific Lutheran University, Bellevue College and the DigiPen Institute of Technology all announced that classes will be canceled or completed online.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.