SPOKANE — The rate of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 in Spokane has doubled in the past week, and the state’s second-largest city is “on the edge of a cliff,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.

“Something has to change to rescue people and the economy,” Inslee said after visiting with civic leaders on Washington State University’s Spokane campus.

Inslee’s visit drew a few dozen protesters against his administration’s proclamation earlier this week requiring people to wear masks when in public. Inslee, who wore a mask during his press conference, said the way to battle the spread of the coronavirus is simple.

“You’ve just got to wear a little cloth on your face,” he said.

Demonstrators outside the building carryied signs that said “Inslee Must Go,” and “Freedom is the cure.” Some waved flags bearing the name of President Donald Trump.

Janice Tollett of Airway Heights said she won’t wear a mask and thinks the governor should just “open everything up and let the chips fall where they may.”

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However, Inslee said he expects most Washington residents to wear masks, especially when shopping. Wearing a mask protects other people if the wearer has the virus without knowing it.

In announcing the rule Tuesday, Inslee noted that workers such as grocery cashiers deserve to be safe when interacting with customers.

“It is fair to protect the people who are serving you,” Inslee reiterated Thursday in Spokane.

The order takes effect Friday. A violation is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a maximum fine of $1,000.

Some law enforcement officers have said they will not write tickets for failure to wear a mask. Inslee said he doubted tickets would be widely issued anyway.

The governor said the most important metrics he looks at regularly are the rate at which infected people are infecting others, known as the “R-naught” or “R0,” and the rate of new hospitalizations in a county.

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Dr. Dan Getz, an emergency room doctor at Spokane’s Sacred Heart Medical Center, the state’s second-largest hospital, said the facility tripled its number of COVID-19 patients in the past week, and continues to admit people.

“It could quickly overrun our hospital system,” Getz said. “… Wear the mask.”

Spokane County is currently in Phase 2 of the state’s four-phase reopening plan, meaning many businesses are open. As of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, 1,098 people in the county have been infected and 38 of those have died, according to the state Department of Health.

That’s far lower than the infection rates in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties, which are still in Phase 1, but Inslee said the trend in Spokane was disturbing.

Statewide, more than 30,000 people have tested positive for the virus and at least 1,300 have died.

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