The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries confirmed Thursday that it had opened an inspection into Lewis County government regarding mask use and coronavirus prevention.
The department received a referral with concerns over the two items, Tim Church, of L&I public affairs, told The Chronicle.
“We received what’s called a referral, which is like a complaint, essentially, about mask use by Lewis County government employees … and the inappropriate use of masks or lack of a use of masks essentially,” Church said.
Church forwarded the referral, which doesn’t say who contacted L&I, to The Chronicle. The referral says, “We have a Commissioner in Lewis county who is putting everyone else at risk in public meetings — employees, citizens, and otherwise — by refusing to use basic COVID-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect those around him.”
Lewis County Commissioner Bobby Jackson has been critical of mask mandates from Gov. Jay Inslee and has noted that he does not wear a mask due to a medical issue. He has been wearing what is described as a spit guard during meetings, which does not meet requirements of state requirements to wear a mask or face shield in public.
Commissioners Edna Fund and Gary Stamper wear masks in public meetings.
Sheriff Rob Snaza has also been critical of masks, saying earlier this summer to a group of people in Chehalis, “Don’t be a sheep,” in response to the mask mandate. He later said he was not saying masks should not be worn but that rather residents should not blindly follow ideas.
Church noted that a “referral” comes from a person outside the agency or company in question, while a “complaint” comes from within the agency or someone working on behalf of the agency.
According to state law, L&I has six months to complete an investigation, or inspection, once it begins. However, Church said the agency has been prioritizing coronavirus-related complaints and will likely be finished with this inspection much quicker.
“These are issues that are affecting employees immediately, right now,” he said. “A mask issue affects people today.”
Church also clarified mask rules for workplaces. Employees are required to wear masks at work unless they are working alone or have an exemption, such as a medical issue.