Jefferson County is expected to soon start requiring face masks for everyone entering businesses, while Clallam County is not expected to mandate them.
Both, however, will urge residents and visitors to wear face coverings in public areas.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said Monday at his briefing with the county commissioners that he expects today or Thursday to make a health officer’s order requiring face masks by everyone inside stores and outside if social distancing isn’t possible to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said during an interview Tuesday she is not planning to implement a face mask mandate in the county.
“We’re working on a recommendation for Clallam, not a mandate,” Unthank said.
Locke said his order would be considered a suggested requirement, similar to those issued in King and Whatcom counties.
Enforcement is not planned at this time; instead, people would be educated about the reasons for wearing a mask instead of imposing legal penalties or fines if one is not worn, Locke said.
King County’s order states “that all individuals at indoor or confined outdoor public settings are strongly urged to use face coverings over their nose and mouth,” according to King County Public Health.
Locke said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released information that transmission of COVID-19 is more driven by person-to-person contact through aerosols people release by speaking, coughing or sneezing, rather than by surface contact — which is still a possible way to be infected.
An infected person wearing a mask is less likely to spread the infection, Locke said.
A person can have the virus but not know it and still carry it to others, public health officials have said.
Wearing a face covering during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a subject of controversy.
Some politicians have used face masks as a “partisan wedge” issue, Locke said, leading some to believe that being required to wear a mask is an infringement on their personal liberty, he said.
“It’s a basic failure of understanding that public health and personal liberty are not against each other,” Locke said. “This is not an expression of personal liberty by not wearing a mask.
“Given the opposition, trying to enforce it with criminal penalties is likely to have negative effects.”
Locke compared mask wearing to speed limits in school zones. Drivers can choose not to follow the speed limits set, but speeders put other lives at risk, he said.
However, in addition to the mask mandate, Locke wants to expand education about why mask wearing is important and see that masks can be obtained easily in a positive way. As an example, he mentioned the Mask Fairies of Clallam County, who hand out free masks to the community while dressed as colorful fairies.
Having people embrace mask wearing and continuing to practice social distancing are important for the county as it moves further into Phase 2 and eventually into Phase 3, which Locke expects to happen sometime in July.
“Keeping everything closed was not a long-range plan,” he said.
“It was a desperate measure to try to prevent a surge in cases.”
No new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in either county Tuesday. The numbers held at 25 confirmed cases in Clallam County and 30 confirmed cases in Jefferson County, officials said.
Nineteen cases have recovered in Clallam County, and 28 cases have recovered in Jefferson County.
Unthank will present her recommendations for Clallam County to the Clallam Board of Health this afternoon, and she said her recommendation includes all of the Phase 2 activities listed in Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-part “Safe Start Washington” plan except for overnight camping, as to not promote a rise in tourism, she said.
“We want to wait to open overnight camping until there are more camping spots available in the rest of the state,” Unthank said.
If the recommendation is approved as is, camping would open when the entire state is in Phase 2, Unthank said.
Overnight camping for Jefferson County is tied to Clallam County. If the Clallam Board of Health approves no overnight camping, then Jefferson County could either wait with Clallam County until the rest of the state enters Phase 2, or the Jefferson County Board of Health and county commissioners could revisit that part of the variance, Locke said.
State parks are not expected to open for overnight camping until the entire state is in Phase 2. Currently, 21 of the 39 counties in the state have entered Phase 2, Locke said.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached by email at [email protected].