Businesses will be legally required to turn down customers who don’t wear face coverings starting next week as Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide mandate Thursday, July 2.
During a press conference, Inslee announced the next step in the state’s “Mask up, open up” campaign. Starting Tuesday, July 7, businesses will be legally required to only serve those wearing a mask or some sort of face covering.
The new order comes as an “extremely troublesome spike” in COVID-19 has hit the state, Inslee explained, seeing the infections per day of the disease reach peaks not seen since April.
“This is obviously a great cause for concern,” Inslee said, adding that although testing capacity had improved since April, the increase “is not just a coincident of more testing. It’s because more people are becoming infected. That is clear.”
He said positivity rates of testing and number of hospitalizations backed up that argument.
Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman said that one day before the press conference the state saw a new all-time high with 618 cases reported in a single day. He said Thursday it appeared more than 700 would be reported.
The good news, Inslee said, is that the state had “a very, very low-cost, non-injurious, almost universally-available tool at our disposal” in face coverings. Apart from protecting the wearer, “more importantly it protects the people around you,” the governor said. It stops the spread of COVID-19 in those who are asymptomatic carriers or haven’t shown symptoms yet.
“When we wear a mask, it is a signal of something about us — it is a signal that we care about the community,” Inslee said.
Inslee said the order gave businesses “an added measure of protection,” keeping employees less-susceptible to infection. The order is similar to one already in place in Yakima County, which has been hard-hit in recent weeks with escalating case counts.
Inslee mentioned “very preliminary evidence” suggesting that efforts to increase mask-wearing in hard-hit Yakima County had already slowed the spread of COVID-19, which he said if proven conclusive would add to the “mountain of evidence” worldwide that the practice has an impact.
“This is not an optional plan for businesses. This is a legal requirement,” Inslee said. Businesses could face fines, potential closures and Labor and Industries violation sanctions for noncompliance, though the governor felt that similar to other measures taken to stop the disease’s spread there would be widespread compliance.
“We don’t want to use those systems, and should not have to,” Inslee said. “If we simply continue the practice of adhering to the law … we’ll have a great success here.”
“I believe that’s going to happen,” Inslee said.
Inslee assured those with medical conditions preventing them from wearing a mask that they would not have to disclose their specific condition to a business, only state they have one that affected their ability.
Inslee also announced a pause on all counties moving from their current “Safe Start Washington” reopening phases for two weeks, as well as the removal of bar and counter service at restaurants and bars from Phase 3 allowances.
As part of the freeze on counties moving to further Safe Start Washington phases, Wiesman said that any submitted applications to move would also be subject to the suspension, such as Clark County’s application to move into Phase 3.
The removal of bartop operations from Phase 3 was in an effort to prevent “prolonged mingling” in restaurant and tavern settings, Inslee said.
Regarding legal challenges to executive orders intended to stop the spread of COVID-19, Inslee said there had been more than 15 lawsuits in state or federal court, many seeking injunctions against the orders. Of those, he said either judges denied the injunction request or the lawsuit was dropped, adding that some had been described as “frivolous, unpersuasive and completely devoid of merit.”
Inslee affirmed that the orders were lawful under statutory emergency authority, remarking that “there is nowhere in the United States Constitution that says that anyone has a right to infect another person with a deadly disease.”
Inslee was also heartened by apparent bipartisan support of wearing face coverings, pointing to Republicans such as Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, who have demonstrated or spoken about mask usage.
“This is important, because we win wars when we’re united,” Inslee remarked.
With the Fourth of July holiday the following weekend, Inslee and Wiesman reminded Washingtonians to keep any celebrations within guidelines for gatherings, among households or among a close circle of friends.
“This is not the time for extended family, friends or neighborhood birthday parties, retirement (parties) or Fourth of July barbecues,” Wiesman said.
“This year I really hope people want to celebrate trying to win independence from this virus as well as independence for our nation,” Inslee said.