King County issues directive for face coverings at indoor public places, confined spaces

SEATTLE -- King County is joining a lengthy list of other counties and states across the country issuing directives on face masks in public in an effort to fight the spread of Covid-19.

The new directive - announced at a virtual press conference Monday held by King County Executive Dow Costantine, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Public Health Officer Jeff Duchin -  says King County residents should wear a cloth face covering in indoor public spaces or confined spaces where social distancing is not possible.

It's in line with the federal guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control in Prevention in early April urging people, especially in areas hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus, to use rudimentary coverings like T-shirts, bandannas and non-medical masks to cover their faces while outdoors.

There will be no penalty for not wearing one in King County, and law enforcement will not be involved, county officials said, though Mayor Durkan said it's a requirement.

Your employer can also force you to wear a mask while you're working, Constantine said.

Masks will also be required for riding Metro transit.

Seattle has 45,000 face coverings on hand and will give them to area nonprofits to distribute to those who need them. King County has 115,000 masks to give to community-based organizations.

"Masks and face coverings block the spread of droplets when someone coughs," Duchin said. "Covid-19 is very contagious. An infected person can spread to other people even before showing symptoms. For this reason, our community interventions like physical distancing and mask use are critical. Your mask protects me. My mask protects you."

The spaces where people should wear them include stores, pharmacies, restaurants, banks and public transportation, according to the county.

County officials said not everyone is able to wear a mask, including people who are hard of hearing or have other health issues.

Constantine and Durkan said the masks residents should wear are not N95 or other masks that are needed by health care professionals, but instead a more simple cloth covering or disposable mask.

Duchin, the county's public health officer, said the struggle against Covid-19 will likely last for many more months, and mask wearing is one tool in the county's fight.