By Kari Bray / Snohomish Health District
Wearing a cloth face cover in public has been a strong recommendation for a couple of months, and now it’s the law. A new statewide public health order goes into effect Friday, June 26, that requires people to wear a cloth facial covering in public.
There is a lot of great information out there, including from the Washington State Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, the Department of Labor and Industries, Governor Jay Inslee, and Restart’s #WearAMaskWA Initiative. We encourage you to check out those resources and review the information below.
Are cloth face coverings required in Snohomish County?
Yes. The order is statewide. The Snohomish Health District supports the order.
“Wear cloth face coverings when out of the home, especially when you’re indoors in public places, like shopping, but also when you’re outdoors if you cannot maintain a sustained gap of six feet between you and all others,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, Health Officer for the Snohomish Health District. “When I do that, I’m protecting you. And when you do that, you’re protecting me. It’s about all of us working to protect each other. So even if I’m not worried about me getting sick, I can’t make that decision for other people.”
What kind of cloth face covering should I wear?
Good news! There are a lot of options. If it covers your mouth and nose and does not have holes or gaps, it counts. That means a sewn cloth covering with ties or straps, which you can make or buy, qualifies. A scarf or bandana works, too. The key is to make sure that you can wear it over your mouth and nose comfortably for a stretch of time.
If you are in a field like healthcare or emergency response, you may have professional grade personal protective equipment for work. People who do not need to wear medical grade masks should not do so. It is still important to prioritize those for healthcare and first responders.
Does everyone have to wear a face cover?
Just about everyone, yeah. Unless you meet one of the exceptions, the face cover order does apply to you.
• Children younger than 2 years should not wear one.
• Children ages 2-4 are not required to wear one, but it is recommended that they do so in indoor settings where 6 feet of separation cannot be maintained from non-household members.
• People who have a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevent wearing a face covering do not need to wear one.
If you see someone who is not wearing a mask, do not assume that they are ignoring the order. They may have a valid reason.
Do people have to wear face covers at work, school or child care?
Yes, you need to wear a cloth face cover if you will be around other people during work, school or child care. You do not need to wear a cloth face cover in your car, at home, or outdoors if you have plenty of space from other people.
Schools were closed through the end of this school year, but we are looking toward the fall. Staff, students and visitors are required to wear face coverings in schools. Check out the Reopening Washington Schools 2020 District Planning Guide for more information. And remember to watch for updates from your school district about fall plans.
As for higher education, monitor guidance from the state and from your higher education institution. Face covers will be required in common areas but not in closed dorm rooms.
At child care facilities, young children (under age 5) are not required to wear face covers, and babies or toddlers (under age 2) should not wear them. However, staff and children age 5 or older must wear face covers at child care, preschool or day camps when they are indoors. More health and safety information is available in the Guidance for Child Care and Early Learning and the FAQ for Child Care Facilities and Other Youth Programs.
But how do I eat?
There are times when you can take off your face cover in public locations. If you are seated at a food establishment – where tables are required to be distanced – you may remove your face cover to eat and drink. If you are doing outdoor activities and can keep at least a six-foot distance from others, you may remove the face cover. If you or the person you are interacting with is deaf or hard of hearing, you may remove the face cover if it is essential for communication. For a full list of when people may remove their face cover in a public setting, see the public health order.
Do face covers work?
The research thus far says yes. The science supports the importance of wearing cloth face covers, and public health officials are confident that face covers can reduce transmission of the virus.
The reason they help is straightforward. We know that COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses spread largely through respiratory droplets that leave our mouth when we speak, cough, sneeze, sing, shout, and breathe. Even if we can’t see them, we spread these droplets – which can carry the virus if we’re infected. A cloth face cover over our mouth and nose captures the majority of the droplets and reduces the likelihood that they will carry the virus to someone near us.
Cloth face covers are an extremely useful tool for helping during this pandemic. We know they aren’t perfect. They don’t filter the air like a medical grade mask, and their primary job is not protecting the wearer. Their purpose is to protect those around the wearer by reducing the range of potentially virus-carrying droplets. And since people can be infected with COVID-19 without showing symptoms, wearing a cloth face cover helps prevent unintentionally spreading the virus.
Will wearing a cloth face cover put me at risk? What about lack of oxygen or overload of carbon dioxide?
No. Wearing a cloth face covering is extremely unlikely to restrict oxygen or cause you to breathe excessive carbon dioxide. They are not airtight.
You may be uncomfortable wearing a face cover, especially when you are first getting used to it. Covers should be easy to put on and remove. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, sit down at least six feet away from other people and remove the cover.
If you have concerns that an existing respiratory condition or other health issue will make wearing a cloth face cover problematic, please contact your medical provider with questions.
And no, wearing a face cover isn’t shown to increase your risk of illness. Any germs that get trapped are the ones that came from you, and it won’t weaken your immune system by protecting you from other germs you need to build immunity. Don’t sell your immune system short. It, and you, will be fine without those extra germs.
It is important to avoid fidgeting with the face cover while wearing it, and to wash and dry it between uses. You don’t want to transfer germs to your hands and then to other surfaces you touch.
Don’t forget to also keep up with handwashing, cleaning and sanitizing high-touch surfaces, and physical distancing (at least six feet from others).
What if I see someone who isn’t wearing a face cover?
Enforcement of the face cover requirement is a challenge, and we know that can be frustrating. The statewide public health order carries the force of law and violators may be subject to criminal penalties. However, remember that there are exceptions and people may have an allowable reason not to wear one.
Here are some resources and tips:
1. If someone isn’t wearing a cloth face cover, don’t confront them. The safest thing to do is maintain your distance. Wear your own face cover and lead by example. They may have a good reason for why they cannot wear one. Be kind.
2. If you are an employee and your workplace is not enforcing health measures, you can contact the Labor & Industries Call Center to submit a health and safety complaint: 1-800-423-7233.
3. If you are a customer and have a concern about a business that is not following health measures, go to the state’s online form for Business and Worker Inquiries and select “File a complaint against a business.”
4. Also, if you notice a business is not following health measures – for example, if employees are not consistently wearing face covers and customers are not being actively encouraged to do so – do not patronize that business. Support the many business owners and workers who are taking the right steps to keep you healthy.
We know that cloth face covers aren’t comfortable for everyone. We also know that many people don’t like being told to wear one in places where they’ve never had to mask up before. This pandemic has required all of us to make changes to our routines in order to protect our loved ones and our community.
Yes, you should wear a cloth face cover because it’s the law. You should also wear a cloth face cover because it is kind. Face covers, hand washing, physical distancing, cleaning and sanitizing – these are all important tools to protect others. Please use them all.
The Public Health Essentials! blog highlights the work of the Snohomish Health District and shares health-related information and tips.