By Rachel La Corte | The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Businesses in Washington are now required to refuse service to customers who don’t wear facial coverings, under a statewide order that took effect Tuesday and was issued in response to a spike in the number of new coronavirus cases.
Inslee announced the new mandate last week. It prohibits allowing a customer to enter a business, or conducting business with a customer if they are not wearing a facial covering in any public space, indoor our outdoors.
He said that he wants to avoid having to roll back economic reopenings, as some other states have done in the face of rising cases.
“This is what we can do to keep our businesses open and continue to open more,” Inslee said at a news conference, wearing a Seattle Mariners mask.
Violations are a gross misdemeanor and businesses risk fines and losing their business license if they don’t comply, though the governor’s office has said they want to focus on education and voluntary compliance. A conservative think tank has already filed a lawsuit against the order questioning the governor’s authority. Inslee said he believed “we are on very firm constitutional and statutory grounds.”
Exemptions exist for people who are deaf or have hearing loss, those who have medical conditions that preclude them from wearing a mask and children age 5 and younger. And people engaged in recreation alone or with household members and those eating out at restaurants don’t have to wear masks as long as they are properly distanced from others.
The state has seen larger increases of confirmed cases in recent days. As of Tuesday, more than 37,000 people have tested positive for the virus and at least 1,384 have died.
Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer, said that while part of the increase is due to an increase in testing, there are also signs that show the number of disease activity is increasing.
“These worrisome signals are no longer confined to a few hot spots in eastern Washington but are now being seen unfortunately throughout the state,” she said. “If COVID-19 activity continues to increase throughout Washington during the summer months, our hospitals could be full of COVID-19 patients moving into the fall which would position us very poorly for the start of the school year and the anticipated fall wave.”
The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
The state’s stay-at-home order expired May 31 and the state’s 39 counties have been moving through a four-stage reopening process based on several indicators, including case counts. Inslee last week announced a two-week statewide pause for counties looking to advance from their current stage of reopening due to the recent numbers.
As of Tuesday, 17 counties are in Phase 3 of reopening, which allows gyms and movie theaters to operate at half capacity, restaurants to increase capacity to 75 percent and for group gatherings of up to 50 people, including sports activities. Seventeen counties are currently in Phase 2, which allows restaurants and taverns to reopen at half capacity with limited table sizes, hair and nail salons and barber shops to resume business, and retail stores to reopen for in-store purchases at 30 percent capacity. It also allows additional outdoor recreation and gatherings with no more than five people outside of a person’s household.
Five counties — Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin and Yakima — are currently the only counties in a modified Phase 1 of reopening, which allows some additional business activity beyond essential businesses.