As everyday activity slowly resumes, all members of our communities need to do their part to slow the rate of transmission of COVID-19.
When people were not following health recommendations to cover their faces, Seattle and King County officials made the right call this week to make them mandatory. People are required to cover their mouths and noses when they’re likely to be in contact with others, including while riding public transit, visiting stores or restaurants and in crowded outdoor spaces.
The directive comes at a time when modified Stay Home, Stay Healthy restrictions are more likely to bring more people into close contact and the number of COVID-19 cases has plateaued, King County health officials say.
And even though Pierce and Snohomish counties are still only strongly recommending — not requiring — the use of face coverings, residents throughout the Sound Region should voluntarily do so whenever they may come in contact with others.
Cloth masks may not be perfect, but they do reduce the danger of transmitting coronavirus. They also have the benefit of being readily available — a homemade mask, scarf or bandanna will work in a pinch. N-95 masks still should be preserved for health workers.
Many people already make regular practice of this common-sense precaution. Last week’s announcement makes it mandatory in King County as of Monday. The directive does not apply to children age 2 and younger, or to people with certain disabilities or medical conditions that would make mask-wearing difficult or unwise.
Officials said police would not enforce the directive and warned people not to discriminate against or make assumptions about anyone they see in public without a mask. That does not lessen the obligation to comply with the directive for those who are able to do so.
“We are at a precarious moment in our battle against this virus,” as King County Executive Dow Constantine said in announcing the change. Simply put, it’s the responsible thing to do.
To help, Seattle has vowed to distribute 45,000 free cloth face coverings to people experiencing homelessness, low-income seniors, food-bank staff and other vulnerable communities. This is a worthy investment of public funds.
State health officials had confirmed 17,512 cases and 975 deaths from COVID-19 as of Wednesday. New diagnoses and deaths continue to be a daily occurrence. Social distancing has been working to slow the spread, but it is estimated that only a fraction of the population has been exposed.
Washington is by no means out of danger. Cloth masks help reduce the risk and are a visual symbol of a communal commitment to public health.