By Peninsula Daily News and The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — While two sheriffs in Washington state are objecting to a statewide mandate for people to wear masks in public to slow the spread of coronavirus, others say they respect the order but are focusing on education rather than enforcement.
The order making masks mandatory takes effect today. A violation is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a maximum fine of $1,000.
On Tuesday, Lewis County Sheriff Robert Snaza responded to the order, telling a crowd: “Don’t be a sheep,” in comments captured by a photographer for The Daily Chronicle newspaper and posted to YouTube.
“My frustration is we continue to listen to the governor’s requests without asking questions, without saying: ‘Well, wait a minute, there’s the other side to this’ and in particular wearing the mask,” Snaza told the Northwest News Network later.
On Wednesday, Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer also blasted Gov. Jay Inslee’s order in an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting. Songer called the governor an “idiot” and said he’s “overstepping his bounds, violating people’s constitutional rights.”
The masking order issued by state Secretary of Health John Wiesman requires face coverings when people are indoors in a public area, and outdoors in a public area when 6 feet of physical distancing can’t be maintained. Children younger than 6 are not required to wear masks and those younger than 2 are exempt from the order, but masks are recommended for kids between 3 and 5.
On Thursday, the office of Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict issued a statement saying “The statewide face covering order is a public health and safety measure. It is not a mandate for law enforcement to detain, cite or arrest violators.”
The statement echoed one released by the State Patrol and is the stand with which the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) agrees.
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office said: “While violations of the state orders are misdemeanors, the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office has not detained, cited, or arrested any violators.”
Deputies “will continue to communicate with and encourage citizens to make safety-focused decisions and follow all health-based directives,” it said.
Jefferson County Sheriff Joe Nole favors education and encouragement over arresting or fining people who don’t wear masks, he said Thursday.
“We’re going to continue to communicate with and encourage all Jefferson County residents to make safety-focused decisions and follow the health-based directives that the governor has made, as well as local health officials,” Nole said. “We’re still, at this point, in the mode of education and talking to people about why this is a good thing to be done.
“Even though it is a criminal offense to not abide by the ruling, I don’t have any intent of detaining or arresting people or writing tickets unless there was a reason to do so.
“It’s a cliche now, but COVID-19 has no political side,” Nole added. “It’s better safe than sorry. It might not be the best thing to do, but it’s better than nothing.
“I wear a mask,” he added.