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Masks now mandatory in many public situations

Even before the order went statewide Friday directing widespread wearing of masks in public and requiring business to mandate it for employees not working alone, Grant County health authorities had already decided that protection was necessary.

It is now mandatory to wear face masks in many public situations in Grant County, which recently entered Phase 2 of the Washington’s Safe Start Recovery Plan.

“After much consideration, research, and consultation, Grant County Health Officer Dr. Alexander Brzezny is issuing a Health Officer Directive mandating this use of face coverings in some public settings,” a May 27 press release from the Grant County Health District reads. “This is one easy effort to assist with reducing the spread of COVID-19 as the County opens up to more public interactions.” 

In a May 28 follow-up letter to editors addressed to multiple media outlets, Brzezny said that the directive was made because Phase 2 will involve closer interactions between people. 

Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement Friday, beginning June 8, all employees will be required to wear a cloth facial covering, except those who are working alone in an office, vehicle, or at a job site, or when the job has no in-person interaction. Employers must furnish cloth masks, but employees can wear their own if they meet the standards set for their situation. State Dept. of Labor and Industry standards require increasingly better masks for workers in higher risk categories.

“The new directive does not seek to punish anyone,” Grant County’s Brzezny says in his letter. “I hope to simply increase the use of face coverings indoors when we cannot stay more than 6 feet apart. Wearing a fabric mask or a covering traps our droplets when we speak, cough, or sneeze. This has been shown to keep COVID-19 from spreading if we all do it. Yes, it can be a nuisance. True, it can be annoying. It feels like you are being told what to do, even though many have already followed this advice. Still, the directive is necessary to support our effort of increasing masking in our stores, in farm housing, in food processing plants and in retail overall — all areas of high spread.”

Grant County Health District Administrator Theresa Adkinson said Brzezny wrote the letter in part because of confusion and resistance to the directive expressed by the public on social media and in calls to the health district. 

“Part of the confusion with the directive is whether it is mandatory or voluntary,” Adkinson told The Star, “because [Brzezny] stated he is urging all residents to comply with the mandate. He wanted everyone to know public health will not be out policing you, we have not asked law enforcement to detain people.” 

Adkinson also said that local businesses can use the directive to refuse service, that Labor & Industries rules mandate employees must wear a mask, and that masking will be a part of the public health food safety inspections at food establishments.

Brzezny said a sudden surge of cases in Grant County, which is more likely if people don’t wear masks in public, could send the county back to Phase 1. 

“All of us have sacrificed something to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “Many have lost jobs, our kids have suffered, our elders are sheltering in place, and our economy is hit. But especially now is not the time to let up. Physical distancing of more than 6 feet should be integrated into our lives as much as possible in the foreseeable future. Using face coverings and washing our hands seems like a no-brainer. An increasing trend in cases could mean that our “reopening” could be rolled back again.”

The health district elaborated on the logic behind mandating the masks.

“There is rising evidence that face coverings reduce the spread of the virus in settings outside of the home, such as settings where it is not possible to maintain 6 feet distance between yourself and others,” the district said. “Investigations of people diagnosed with COVID-19 are demonstrating that 50% of patients have few to no symptoms. These ‘super spreaders’ are not aware that they have the virus and are passing it along to others. A simple face covering on their face has the power to save lives of people they care about and people in their community.”

“Wearing a mask is not about protecting yourself, it is about protecting those around you,” Adkinson said. “It truly is about everyone else and is a selfless act of kindness.”

The directive states: “All individuals at indoor or confined public settings MUST WEAR FACE COVERINGS over their noses and mouths if they are likely to be in contact with another individual who does not share their household and maintaining a distance from those individuals of approximately six feet is not always possible.”

The directive applies to any indoor or confined public setting where a person will be within six feet of another individual, who does not share the same household.

Children under 2 are exempted, as are people with medical conditions that make it unwise to wear a mask, and a few others.

The governor’s announcement Friday also made it more possible for counties to qualify to open up into Phase 2 of the Safe Start plan, opening more types of businesses, with restrictions.

Okanogan County applied for Phase 2 status on Monday, but noted Tuesday night confirmation of three new cases, for a total of 53, 43 of whom are listed as “recovering.”

Those who may be

excluded from

mask requirement

• any child aged two years or less;

• a child aged 12 years or less unless parents and caregivers supervise the use of face coverings by children to avoid misuse;

• anyone who has a physical disability that prevents easily wearing or removing a face covering;

• anyone who is deaf and uses facial and mouth movements as part of communication, or an individual who is communicating with a person who is deaf and uses facial and mouth movements as part of communication;

• anyone who has been advised by a medical professional that wearing a face covering may pose a risk for health-related reasons.


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