King County Metro will direct bus riders to wear cloth face coverings to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, officials said Monday. However, there will be no legal enforcement of the directive and drivers will not turn away passengers without face coverings.
Face coverings include “fabric masks, a scarf, a bandanna or a disposable nonmedical mask that can cover your nose and mouth,” said County Executive Dow Constantine.
The announcement came as part of a King County directive instructing residents to wear face coverings in indoor locations like grocery stores and other places where it’s difficult to keep distance from others. Officials emphasized there will be no legal enforcement of the directive, which takes effect next week.
“We cannot succeed if we turn these social distancing and other protective measures into some sort of cat-and-mouse game. It needs to be a broad voluntary compliance in the community,” Constantine said.
The directive does not create grounds for law enforcement to stop or cite people, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, public health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Duchin urged people to cover their faces to prevent the spread of the virus to others. With more people returning to work, “there’s a real threat that the outbreak will flare up,” Duchin said.
Both bus drivers and riders will be required to wear face coverings, but drivers will not prevent passengers without face coverings from boarding, according to Metro. Aboard buses, riders will hear recorded reminders about wearing face coverings. Security officers will “offer guidance on social distancing and other public health recommendations,” Metro said in a blog post about the new directive.
“We trust that all riders will comply to the extent they can, acknowledging that wearing a face covering poses unique challenges for some, such as those with disabilities or respiratory issues, or deaf individuals who use facial movements as part of communications,” Metro said.
Riders should “avoid the temptation to police other passengers who aren’t wearing a mask,” Metro said.
The agency does not plan to distribute masks to riders “due to a number of safety and health concerns for operators, passengers and security personnel,” but is making 75,000 masks available through community organizations to people with low incomes who rely on transit.
Ken Price, president of ATU Local 587, called the directive “good news,” but said, “we believe [a] NO Mask No Ride [requirement] would be the safest improvement to date.”
King County Metro and Sound Transit already encouraged passengers to wear face coverings on board buses and trains. Some other transit systems, including Los Angeles’ Metropolitan Transportation Authority, have recently begun requiring masks, though enforcement remains tricky.
As many people work from home, transit has been designated an essential service and Metro has designated its drivers “first responders” who should continue working unless they show symptoms or are in high-risk categories.
Drivers have grappled with the newfound dangers of the job and its many interactions with the public. Two bus drivers in the region, 59-year-old Metro driver Samina Hameed and 41-year-old Community Transit driver Scott Ryan, have died after being diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Metro has offered drivers cloth masks, suspended fare collection, instructed riders to board through back doors when possible and imposed new limits on how many passengers should be on board a bus at once to allow for social distancing.
Sound Transit, which provides service across three counties, will “post prominent signage directing riders to wear face coverings,” said spokesman John Gallagher. Sound Transit believes it cannot enforce a requirement for face coverings because there is no such statewide requirement, Gallagher said.
“We believe the vast majority of riders will comply [with] this directive,” Gallagher said in an email, “and most have already been doing so based on our and the CDC’s past encouragement.”