King County issues directive urging public to wear face masks in most public spaces

King County issues directive urging public to wear face masks in most public spaces
Self-sewn protective face masks in a fabric store (Jens Schlueter/Getty Images)

Starting May 18, King County residents will be directed to wear masks in most public places to prevent the spread of coronavirus, leaders announced Monday.

The new directive issued by Public Health - Seattle & King County asks people to wear masks in restaurants, grocery stores, retail stores and on public transit. Masks are not required when exercising outdoors as long as proper social distancing is practiced.

“We want residents to wear face masks in all indoor situations that require interacting with strangers,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said.

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Masks will be mandatory on King County Metro.

“I would rather people lock down their mouths and noses than lock down their neighborhood,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

There are exceptions for children, people with disabilities, deaf individuals who use facial movements as part of communication, and others.

There is no legal penalty for not wearing a mask, but businesses have the right to refuse service if members of the public are not wearing a mask. Find more information here.

Durkan said 45,000 free face coverings will be given out to Seattle’s most vulnerable residents, this includes people experiencing homelessness, older low-income adults and food bank staff.

The city said the face coverings are sourced locally.

“While we have flattened the curve, saved lives, and prevented our health care systems from being overwhelmed, we have to remember that there are significantly more cases in our community now than early March when we began restrictions. This virus knows no boundaries. Wearing cloth face coverings is part of the new normal. While public health requirements like this are new, we must follow this guidance. It’s up to all of us to protect the health and safety of our communities,” said Durkan. “I’m deeply grateful to our community-based partners for their help making, procuring, and distributing face coverings to our most vulnerable communities. At this unprecedented moment, individuals and businesses should continue innovating, creating, and donating cloth face coverings.”

The announcement comes as new projections from the University of Washington predict an additional 57,000 deaths by August as states loosen restrictions.

“We’re just seeing more cases and deaths than expected in certain places,” Dr. Christopher Murray, IHME director, told CBS’ “Face the Nation”. “So, we may actually see quite a lot of states with increasing cases over the next two weeks.”

Public Health – Seattle & King County also put out a new report that said the transmission rate of the virus may be rising in King County and across western Washington.

Although transmission rates dropped in March and early April, recent statistics from Washington Disease Reporting System show the reproductive number was no longer falling and possibly has been rising since April 6.

“This report once again reminds us that our position is precarious and COVID-19 transmission and new cases remain unacceptably high,” Dr. Duchin said.