Inslee Issues Mandate That All Businesses Require Mask Use Among Patrons, But Stops Short of Active Enforcement

by Carolyn Bick

A mask-clad Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee announced in a July 2 press conference that beginning on July 7, businesses will be legally required to enforce mask use among their patrons. He also said that all counties’ applications to move forward into a new Safe Start phase will be paused for two weeks starting immediately.

The announcements come as the number of novel coronavirus cases statewide continue to rise. In an earlier press conference, Public Health – Seattle & King County’s Public Health Officer Jeff Duchin revealed that cases in King County have more than doubled in the last two weeks, going from 40 per day to more than 100 per day, and that almost half these cases are in the City of Seattle alone. Most of the increase is among younger people. Duchin said that one-third of these recent increases are among young adults 20-29 years old, and more than half of all new cases are in people 29-39 years old.

Inslee called the surge across the state a “troubling spike,” and pointed to graphs that showed the number of cases in several counties are almost at or have surpassed the number of cases in April, when the virus was at its peak in the state. He also showed a graph that indicates the rate of transmission is once again increasing, and is at just above one in Western Washington and around 1.5 in Eastern Washington. This means in both parts of the state that one person is infecting more than one other person.

While Inslee said that businesses who do not enforce masking requirements amongst its patrons will be subject to “sanctions,” he did not say exactly how the state would enforce those requirements, or what those sanctions or penalties would be. Responding to a question from the Everett Herald, he simply said that “the plan is to continue to enjoy the pleasant success we have had already with our Stay Home Stay Healthy order.”

“People want to comply with the law voluntarily. So, our plan is to continue that type of approach on this business requirement,” Inslee said.

Inslee expressed a similarly confident sentiment that businesses and patrons would comply with the first mask mandate he ordered last week. However, there have been allegations by commenters responding to news stories online of essential businesses, like several Seattle Safeway locations, not enforcing mask use amongst their employees or patrons, despite the previous public health order — which also carried no active enforcement action — supposedly mandating that Washingtonians wear masks indoors and in outdoor groups.

This image shared with the Emerald shows a to-go food bar worker at the Safeway in the Safeway Plaza on Rainier not wearing a mask in early July 2020. The worker’s face has been obscured to protect their identity.

When the Emerald asked about this, Inslee just said that those businesses would be getting calls, and that businesses that have received calls in the past have “typically complied within 24 hours.” 

The Emerald learned in a follow-up phone call with Inslee’s Deputy Communications Director and Press Secretary Mike Faulk that these businesses included Hobby Lobby and PetCo, the former of which was trying to open stores before legally allowed, while the latter would not cease grooming services. 

Recently, an Anytime Fitness in Yakima County was fined almost $10,000 for opening early. It was the first employer to be cited and fined for violating the orders stipulated in the county’s current phase. However, it took multiple complaints and several failed attempts by inspectors to get the gym to close down, before it was fined. The gym has until July 5 to close.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.