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King County asks residents to wear masks in public, indoor settings

People wearing masks walk by The Spheres at the downtown Amazon campus on April 30, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

Seattle and King County announced Monday that they are urging residents to wear face coverings in all indoor public settings, and outdoors where social distancing is difficult. This includes grocery stores, pharmacies, and hardware stores, as well as picking up food at a restaurants or at a farmers market. The health directive goes into effect on May 18, 2020.

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“By face coverings, we do not mean the N-95, surgical masks,” King County Executive Dow Constantine clarified. “We’re talking about fabric masks, scarves, a bandanna, and the disposable non-medical masks” that cover your nose and mouth.

Exceptions to the directive include children, people with disabilities, deaf individuals, and others who may not be able to wear a mask for health or other reasons.

There is no penalty for not wearing a face covering, and law enforcement will not be involved in this directive.

Additionally, King County Metro will be requiring all passengers and operators to wear face coverings. However, Metro drivers will not prevent passengers from boarding if they do not have a mask. Reminders to follow distancing and public health guidelines, including the directive to wear a mask, will play over Metro’s public announcement system on board.

Constantine said he expects the most common question following this announcement to be, “why now?”

“The answer is this: We are at a precarious moment in our battle against this virus,” he said.

This is one step everyone can take to protect themselves, each other, the essential workers, and to help slow the spread of the virus, he said.

“It is a sign of our mutual concern for each other,” Constantine added.

Local leaders recognized that not everyone in King County has access to a mask or face covering. The county said it will distribute 115,000 face coverings through community based organizations, and the city of Seattle is working to distribute more than 45,000 face coverings to vulnerable communities, including older adults, those experiencing homelessness, and food bank staff.

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Constantine said masks do not provide a “new license” to harass anyone or intimidate our neighbors who are not wearing a face covering.

“We’ll stand up against any kind of discrimination, whether that was a stigmatization of the Asian community by many at the beginning of this … or whether it be profiling against anyone because of their past,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said. “We won’t stand for that. What we will do is come together collectively to show the kind of responsibility that we have shown as a region over a long period of time.”

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