Wear a mask. For yourself, your community and our economy.
As of Friday, state officials declared mask wearing mandatory in public. But it didn’t take long for some elected leaders to undermine that message at the expense of public health and the state’s recovery.
Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza, at a rally, urged citizens not to be sheep when it came to following mask directives. Perennial initiative promoter Tim Eyman, who is running to replace Gov. Jay Inslee, urged his supporters to “engage in mass mask disobedience” if they don’t want to wear one, whipping up outrage in a Facebook live tirade. Others have expressed similar views.
They are irresponsible and wrong — for some, sadly, dead wrong.
Washingtonians have had plenty of time to get used to the idea of wearing cloth face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19. Masking up is a small price to pay to safeguard public health. Not to care for our communities, as some leaders suggest, is shortsighted and dangerous.
Health Secretary John Wiesman’s order mandating mask wearing in public places should be no surprise to communities that have seen slipshod compliance with voluntary mask directives. The order, which took effect Friday, requires people aged 5 and older to cover mouths and noses on public transit, in indoor public spaces and crowded outdoor areas where it’s hard to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, unless they have a medical exemption. Children aged 2 to 5 are strongly encouraged to wear masks.
In especially hard-hit Yakima County, which is facing an “imminent explosion” of COVID-19 cases that threatens health-care resources, Gov. Inslee has further ordered retailers and other business owners to turn customers away unless their faces are covered.
These are necessary steps. Widespread use of masks in crowded public spaces is essential for the safe reopening of businesses, schools, workplaces and resumption of small social gatherings. If communities won’t do the right thing voluntarily, stronger steps are required.
Patience may be wearing thin after months of dealing with this health emergency, but recent increases in infection rates are clear evidence that the fight is far from over.
Over the past two weeks, there have been an average of 399 COVID-19 cases confirmed each day in Washington, according to public-health officials. Less than three weeks after applying for Phase 2 status, infection rates in Pierce County have jumped from 16 to 31.5 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, according to Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Director Dr. Anthony Chen.
Yakima County’s infection rate is straining hospital resources. In King County, where masks have been mandatory in public for more than a month, bare faces are still common, even in densely populated areas and at events, such as recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Not everyone can safely wear a mask, but those who can should.
Cloth face coverings slow the spread of coronavirus by trapping droplets of moisture that are exhaled when talking, singing, coughing, sneezing or simply breathing. Masks best slow the spread of disease when more people — even those who feel healthy — use them regularly. Donning a bandanna every once in a while does little good.
Forgoing a mask without a medical reason is not a political statement or expression of independence. It’s an act of selfishness or ignorance. Those who are deliberately spreading misinformation about masks’ effectiveness are cynically putting lives at risk.
Unless it is medically inadvisable, and until a vaccine is readily available, stay close to home, minimize interactions with people outside your household, wash your hands and wear a mask.