SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced on Tuesday that a state mandate would take effect on Friday, June 26, that would require the use of face masks or coverings in most public places.
The move comes in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus as many areas across the state saw a spike in cases as counties have moved forward in the state's reopening plan.
The order will make face coverings or masks required in all indoor public places and outdoor public places where social distancing of at least six feet isn't possible.
The mandate includes the whole state, and Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said she sees it as a logical move.
"I have been advocating that we wear masks during COVID as well, and not seeing full compliance," Woodward said. "I think this is just the next step to protect our community's health as much as possible."
Woodward added that she thought it was a good idea for businesses to require masks for customers.
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs also supported Inslee's decision, saying it was "timely" given Spokane's situation.
"The Governor's order is timely for Spokane's situation. This morning I heard presentations from the leaders of all four of Spokane's hospitals. They reported to many of us elected leaders that the recent explosion of new cases in Spokane will soon fill up all of our normal hospital bed capacity and crowd out other patients," Beggs said in a statement. "Their prescription to us was to get everyone to wear facial coverings outside their homes. But it will take all of us to beat this virus and I call on all community members to do their part in preserving and expanding our economy by observing basic public health precautions."
Council member Lori Kinnear told KREM in a statement that wearing a mask shouldn't be political, but instead should be a sign that people care for one another.
"Where adequate social distancing isn’t possible, wearing a mask around your fellow community members is the best way to limit the spread of COVID-19. We don’t have a vaccine for this virus," Kinnear said. "Until we do, we need to make sure we are keeping each other safe. Wearing a mask isn’t a political statement. It’s a statement that you care about your family, friends, neighbors, and other members of your Spokane community.”
However, not all Spokane-area leaders were happy with the move by Inslee, with Spokane City Council Member Michael Cathcart saying it is "disheartening" that the governor required masks while not allowing Spokane County to further open its economy.
"It is incredibly disheartening that our Governor has decided to mandate masks under penalty of fines, while not allowing us to simultaneously reopen our economy. The Governor’s economic shutdown may have made sense in the first few weeks to flatten the curve and slow the spread, but we did that," Cathcart said in a statement. "The inconsistencies in his rules since has encouraged many in our community to question their validity. I hear this daily. Today, we face significant temporary and permanent job loss and plummeting tax revenues, likely necessitating cuts to vital city and state services. I have voluntarily worn a mask for several weeks and I have encouraged others to voluntarily do the same because it is critical that this shutdown comes to a quick conclusion and our employers, and their staff, be allowed to return to work."
Cathcart also said that the mandate to wear masks should have been accompanied by a full reopening of the economy.
As for people who don't like having the choice of wearing a mask or covering taken away, Woodward said she understands, but that the public needs to protect others.
"Listen, I understand that people love their freedoms. This is a situation where we have a health pandemic. And we need to protect those around us," she said. "Of course, wearing masks protects others from ourselves, and I think we really need to get to a place where we should be respectful of others."
Woodward also said that the mask requirement would hopefully help prevent any chance of Spokane being moved back to Phase 1, which local health leaders have said isn't likely.
The Spokane mayor said some businesses have barely been able to make it at 50 percent capacity.
"We've got businesses right now that are barely making it at 50 percent capacity. I can't imagine if they had to close their doors ... and people not working again. I just can't see that happening," Woodward said. "I don't want to see that happen, and if that means wearing masks will prevent us from doing that, that's a small price to pay."
Woodward said Spokane doesn't have enough law enforcement to enforce the rule, which can result in a misdemeanor if violated, on a regular basis. She also said there isn't enough room in local jails for violators.
Instead, Woodward said, Spokane will rely on voluntary compliance with the new rules.
"Please wear your mask. Protect the community, protect others. Help get us to the next phase so we can open more businesses," she said.