EVERETT — Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide requirement that business owners refuse service to customers who do not comply with a face mask order went into effect Tuesday.
“We need masking adherence across the state,” Inslee said during a news conference in Olympia on Tuesday. “We need businesses to adhere, and we believe that they will. We believe that, not just because it’s the law but because we know that people want to do their part.”
Locally, one restaurant owner directed a middle finger at the governor’s proclamation and another compared the newest mandate to giving pregnant women birth control. And a contingent of residents in Lewis County filed a lawsuit, saying the mask order violates their freedom of speech and personal autonomy.
At Karl’s Bakery & Cafe in Everett on Tuesday, owner Sheila Jensen wasn’t even aware of Inslee’s newest proclamation, which was announced July 2.
Jensen has tried to be gentle when customers don’t don a mask, but she doesn’t want to drive away what little business exists. She said it has been tough deciding which battles to pick during the pandemic.
“It is burdensome that we have to figure out how to navigate this new thing now, and I wouldn’t want to get in trouble for doing anything wrong,” Jensen said. “I do feel strongly that everyone should be wearing their mask, but it is hard sometimes to get compliance, and what do you do?”
The no-mask, no-service mandate is another in a series of efforts by the governor to quell the coronavirus pandemic in Washington. In early June, Inslee directed most workers to wear a face covering, and on June 23 he mandated masks for everyone in public spaces — indoor or outdoor — when a six-feet physical distance cannot be maintained.
Brandy Wahlstorm, owner of That Chicken Place in Everett, said it feels like she now has to be the police at her Hewitt Avenue restaurant. She said it’s unfair having to choose between providing a meal to someone based on whether they wear a mask.
“I am a staff of one,” Wahlstrom said. “I am cooking, I am the dishwasher, I am the server, I am maintenance, I am everything. If I have to be the enforcer, I don’t want to be.”
Inslee counseled employees against taking matters into their own hands.
“We are not asking people to get into any physical confrontation,” Inslee said Tuesday. “Just do not ring up the sale.”
At Kate’s Greek & American Deli, owner Katie Dearman said the state’s response is losing her customers and potentially her livelihood. Even after the restaurant has reopened, Dearman said, with each new mask mandate, business fluctuates.
“We didn’t have any business last weekend, on the Fourth of July, which is usually our biggest day of the year,” Dearman said on Tuesday as she bounced between booths, taking orders and refilling drinks.
She said Kate’s probably wouldn’t reopen again if another shutdown occurred and that she has already put the restaurant up for sale. The business which she counted on for her retirement is now in flux.
“I don’t feel like this process of, ‘Now we stay home, now we wear masks,’ I don’t think anything’s been workable,” she said. “I don’t think anything has been thought through.”
Last week, the Freedom Foundation, a national public policy organization based in Olympia, filed a lawsuit on behalf of seven Washingtonians seeking an injunction to the mask requirement as “relief for the violation of civil rights and liberties,” the complaint said.
“Anyone can file a lawsuit who wants to waste their money, and we believe we are in very firm constitutional and statutory grounds,” Inslee said, citing several previous resolutions that upheld the constitutionality of mask ordinances.
In addition to requiring face masks, the governor’s proclamation also requires employer cooperation with COVID-19 investigations by public health authorities and compliance with any other orders or directives. Business owners who do not comply risk a fine or losing their business license.
On Tuesday, Snohomish Health District officials reminded businesses of the need to prepare written safety plans to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those must be available on site for inspection by a health district or other regulatory official.
Each business must also designate a site supervisor to monitor the health of employees and enforce the safety plan through an online form accessible at www.snohd.org. The designated person will also serve as a liaison to the health district.
“We need to know who to contact at an organization if an employee or a visitor tests positive, and the employer needs to know what their responsibilities are if they find that out,” said Ragina Gray, the district’s environmental health director.
Snohomish County has been in Phase 2 of a transition to normalcy for more than a month and won’t be advancing soon. Inslee has placed a two-week pause on counties advancing from their current phase in the four-step “Safe Start” reopening process as part of his proclamation.
Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said moving backward looms as a possibility. The county has recently seen its biggest jump in COVID-19 cases since late April, and a sustained increase in hospitalizations and deaths could necessitate a reversion in phases.
Inslee was asked by reporters Tuesday how bad it needed to get before he’d consider moving counties backward. The governor expressed confidence it won’t come to that if mask wearing is embraced across the state.
“We’ve been in a long slog here but we’re just not finished,” he said. “I believe we are already seeing Washingtonians upping their game big time. I believe we can do this.”
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report.
Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.
Ian Davis-Leonard reports on working class issues through Report for America, a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. To support Ian’s work at The Daily Herald with a tax-deductible donation, go to www.heraldnet.com/support.