OLYMPIA – Businesses will no longer be able to serve customers without a face mask, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.
In addition, the state is preventing any county from moving to the next phase for at least two weeks, while bar seating and counter service will no longer be permitted for counties that moved to Phase 3.
The requirements, which will take effect in the coming days, are intended to slow the resurgent spread of COVID-19 in Washington, which recorded a record high of more than 700 new cases on Thursday.
Seventy of those new cases were in Spokane County, bringing the county total to 1,485. No new deaths or hospitalizations were reported, meaning 19 residents and 34 total COVID-19 patients are receiving care in Spokane-area hospitals.
The requirement that face masks be worn in businesses comes just one week after Inslee announced a statewide mandatory face mask rule. In a press conference Thursday, Inslee called face masks an inexpensive, easy-to-find tool that can help fight the virus.
“It’s really, in a sense, lucky that we have this available,” Inslee said.
Inslee said he hopes businesses comply without enforcement, but the state can enforce fines or even close businesses that refuse to comply.
State and local officials will conduct observational surveys to gauge compliance with masking directives. Such surveys are already required in Benton, Franklin and Yakima counties.
Health officials are planning to begin surveying mask usage at sites in Spokane this weekend.
The decision to pause counties’ movement forward in the state’s phased reopening plan allows the state to find the best way forward as case counts continue to rise, Secretary of Health John Wiesman said.
Efforts to control the virus have been complicated by a shortage of testing materials , as major lab companies, including Quest Diagnostics, have been met with so much demand to process samples that backlogs have built up and created delays in when results are available.
“Despite the rapid expansion of our testing capacity, demand for testing has been growing faster,” a statement from Quest said.
Quest, which processes samples from CHAS Health clinics in Spokane, has one-day turnaround for tests for hospital patients and health care workers, and a two- or three-day turnaround for other people. The average turnaround time is estimated at more than three days .
Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said the health district requested more materials from the state health department this week, but noted that shortages are not limited to Spokane.
“At the national, state and local level, we’re having challenges with obtaining materials and having the analysis done,” Lutz said.
Inslee said the state continues to work to make more testing kits available to counties. He also said he hopes the federal government will expand states’ access to testing resources .
To increase access to testing, especially for those who do not have insurance or who struggle to get to a testing clinic, Spokane County will launch several drive-up testing sites on Tuesday, July 7, at eight elementary schools. Testing will be available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Different locations will be open on different dates.
Testing will be free, but the health district encourages county residents with insurance to seek testing through their health care provider.
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