Will State, Local Officials ‘Enforce’ New Mask Requirements?
With Governor Inslee mandating that masks or some sort of face covering be worn in "public" starting Friday June 26, the next obvious question is, how or will it be enforced?
Inslee said in his press conference that "willful" refusal to wear one could result in a Misdemeanor charge, but we heard the same rhetoric towards businesses that tried to open early or stayed open during the Stay At Home Shutdown. According to the state, only one company was actually charged, and out of state property management firm doing business in the Puget Sound area.
In Yakima County, businesses are being told they are to refuse a customer who comes in without a mask. They are not allowed to have the person enter without the mask. However, in Benton-Franklin County, it's more fuzzy. According to KING-5 TV and Inslee's press conference, he doesn't anticipate enforcement. Inslee said:
"We don’t want to have enforcement of this. Ideally, there won’t be any criminal or civil sanctions for individuals. We just think people will respond, as they had to the first stay home order. There was vast compliance."
But then we have also heard numerous accounts of area businesses that were 'visited' (some claim threatened) by officials about not opening, or attempting to open during the Stay At Home, or some during Phase One. The validity of some of these were confirmed, others were not. A very fluid situation.
Several calls to area law enforcement officials have not produced an answer, but it's not likely they will be involved. We learned area officials were not bent on policing the Stay At Home, as it would detract greatly from their already consuming crime-enforcement tasks. We're figuring the same with the masks.
We did receive this memo from the Kennewick Police Department regarding their stance on the issue:
"Washington law enforcement agencies continue to focus on education and engagement regarding state orders related to the coronavirus crisis. 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 but rather an evidence-based and safety focused directive meant to slow the spread of a potentially deadly disease.
The Kennewick Police Department will continue to communicate with and encourage all Kennewick residents and visitors to make safety-focused decisions and follow all health-based directives from the Governor as well as state and local health officials.
Together, we will continue to address the very real public health threat of COVID 19, as we also work towards safely reopening our economic, social and civic systems.
We are working with our partners at the City Attorney’s Office and the Benton County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for further direction on this mandate. We are hopeful our residents, businesses, elected leaders, health officials, and each other do what is necessary during this unique time of shared medical and economic vulnerability to gradually return to normalcy without enforcement."
We do know this line was in the Unified Situation Report on the BFHD website, the reported dated for the period June 20-23 under the Operations Section:
"At the request of Washington State DOH, surveys of the community to determine adherence to the Face Covering Order are being conducted throughout the area by visual inspection at various businesses at varying times."
This statement is a bit curious, as Inslee's press conference was June 23rd, it is possible this Unified Report was finished after the mandatory mask edict was announced. Whether it's for general compliance data, or otherwise is not specified.
It doesn't appear there will be a 'snitch' website to report mask compliance, like there was for the Stay At Home Business shutdowns. In fact, the official WA State Coronavirus website itself contains this answer to the question "what should I do if I see someone not wearing a mask?:
"Nothing. Some people have conditions or circumstances that would make wearing a cloth face covering difficult or dangerous. Just wear your mask and stay six feet away."
To see the Unified Report for yourself, click on the button below.