On the first day of Washington state’s new order to wear masks in public, it seemed as though not much had changed: People who already supported face coverings wore them, and people who didn’t, didn’t.
Health experts say face coverings can slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, mainly by preventing the wearer’s respiratory droplets from reaching other people.
According to Gov. Jay Inslee’s order, people over the age of 5 must wear face coverings generally while they are in any indoor or outdoor public space. Masks aren’t required outdoors when people can stay more than 6 feet apart from each other, while eating at restaurants, while indoors at home with others, or while alone in a vehicle.
While the order makes a bare face in many public situations a misdemeanor, some local law enforcement agencies aren’t planning to be strict about it.
Many Seattle businesses and restaurants showed support for the rule on Friday.
Kin Len Thai Night Bites, a Thai restaurant in Fremont, opened Tuesday for the first time since March, said general manager Rachel Taylor. A sign on their door read, “Masks required,” and Taylor said the restaurant would have required all customers to wear masks even if it weren’t the law.
“It’s not just about you,” Taylor said.
Shaden Issa, a server at Ken Lin, agreed: “It’s just a respect for humanity.”
Not every business has appeared supportive of masks.
B. Fuller’s Mortar & Pestle, a Fremont tea shop around the corner from Kin Len, faced a backlash over a notice posted on its door earlier this week.
“Please remove your mask,” the notice read, according to pictures posted on social media and in Yelp reviews. “It was all a panic, mostly, and we can all admit that we overreacted. We can all take off the masks that we all know don’t do much. And that we are all wearing just because we think everyone else wants us to.”
On Friday afternoon, B. Fuller’s was closed, though the shop is usually open every day from noon to 5:30 p.m. The owner of the tea shop, Will Sullivan, didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday, but told The Seattle Times a few days later that he put the sign up on June 21 out of frustration with how the pandemic was affecting his business. He noted that smell and taste — both stymied when people use masks — are essential in his business
However, Sullivan said that after having a conversation with one person who came into the store to ask about his sign, he changed his mind and took it down the next day. Inslee’s announcement came the day after that, which meant “the whole issue was moot,” he said.
Terrilyn Heggins, who was shopping at a Grocery Outlet in the Central District Friday, said she felt mixed about the mask requirement, though she said she doesn’t mind wearing one into businesses.
“I just think it’s difficult to breathe with a mask on,” Heggins, said, adding that she’s wary of trusting information about how the virus is spreading.
Shannon Praetorius, who was on a walk through Queen Anne, said she was relieved to hear about Inslee’s announcement. She said she’s concerned not all supermarkets require customers to wear masks.
The state order compels grocery shoppers to wear masks, but the only place where businesses are legally required to enforce mask wearing for customers is Yakima County, the state’s most severe hot spot.
Auburn resident John Maloney voiced concerns about his local Fred Meyer, where he said staff told him this week they aren’t requiring customers to wear face coverings.
“To me, it’s unconscionable not to enforce this policy,” Maloney said. “I find it enraging … I’m wearing a mask to protect me from other people. I think anyone not wearing a mask is trying to kill me.”
In a message to The Seattle Times on Friday, a Fred Meyer spokesperson wrote, “Our associates are required to wear facial coverings, and we are providing masks and gloves to our associates on every shift. We support and strongly encourage everyone entering our stores to wear a mask or facial covering.”
He added that the chain is making “every reasonable effort to get our customers to comply with local ordinances that require a facial covering,” including signs at the entrance of stores reminding customers to wear masks and to keep a safe distance from each other.
Catherine Hostetler of Poulsbo said she won’t don a mask even though that means she may not be able to shop at some places, including Kitsap Mall in Silverdale, where she said a security guard asked her to leave on Friday because she hadn’t covered her face.
She said the mask order divides people and that she’s just as glad to spend her money at other shops in Kitsap where she wasn’t hassled about not wearing a mask.
A spokesperson for Inslee’s office said Friday that local law enforcement will be in charge of enforcing individual mask requirements, but in general will emphasize “education and voluntary compliance rather than legal enforcement.”
That will be the approach of the Seattle police and the sheriff’s offices in King and Snohomish counties, according to spokespeople for those departments.
“We will continue to communicate with and encourage community members to make safety-focused decisions and follow all health-based directives from the Governor as well as state and local health officials,” Snohomish County sheriff’s spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe wrote to The Times on Friday afternoon.
She added that she didn’t believe the sheriff’s office had received any complaints for individual mask violations.
For business violations, O’Keefe said, the state website has a page where residents can file business or organization complaints: st.news/state-mask-complaints.
Seattle Times staff reporter Christine Clarridge contributed to this story.