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News >  Spokane

Employees must wear facial coverings starting this week due to governor’s Safe Start order

June 8, 2020 Updated Tue., June 9, 2020 at 12:11 p.m.

Johnny Chan, left, and volunteer Margie Norris unpack personal protective equipment in the pop-up PPE shop at Chan's Red Dragon on Third Avenue on May 31, 2020. Face masks are required for employees starting this week, according to Gov. Inslee’s Safe Start order. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Johnny Chan, left, and volunteer Margie Norris unpack personal protective equipment in the pop-up PPE shop at Chan's Red Dragon on Third Avenue on May 31, 2020. Face masks are required for employees starting this week, according to Gov. Inslee’s Safe Start order. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Unless you’re working from home, odds are you will probably need to wear a face covering to go to work.

Starting Monday, employees at businesses statewide must wear face coverings at work, due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start order.

A person’s workplace determines which kind of face covering they should wear from reusable cloth masks to N95 respirators, and the state Department of Labor & Industries released guidance on how industries can provide the appropriate face coverings to their employees. For example, mechanics working at a shop can wear a reusable cloth face covering, while kitchen workers in restaurants should wear disposable masks, such as dust masks or non-certified surgical style masks. Employers are required to provide employees with face coverings.

“This is a new thing for us,” Inslee said at a press conference Monday. “I hope people do (wear face coverings) in increasing numbers because I want to get back to normal. I want to prevent dozens of deaths, and I believe we can do that if we do this thing that is in our control.”

In Spokane County, residents are encouraged to follow the public health directive that asks them to wear masks when they are in public areas, particularly indoors, and cannot physically distance six feet from others. Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz strongly encouraged residents to wear masks at stores or when they are in close proximity with others.

“It’s a selfless effort to protect someone else,” he said.

Spokane County reported 25 more people with COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total case count to 763. There were no additional deaths during last weekend, and seven people are hospitalized. The increase in cases is not due to community spread but instead due to broad testing, Lutz said, as well as case counts increasing from outbreaks the health district has found.

“The cases are, as we’ve talked about, a function of more broadly testing as well as diving into when we find cases and looking for immediate contacts. The cases are just that,” Lutz said. “If I were to see increased significant hospitalizations, that would be concerning for me.”

The county so far has not seen increased hospitalizations in the past few weeks. The 55 new cases confirmed on Friday and 33 more reported over the weekend originated from clusters and outbreaks in workplaces and a handful of adult family homes and long-term care facilities. The health district will not identify businesses or facilities by name with outbreaks, unless they go public first.

Spokane County is entering the third week of Phase 2, but it will likely not be the last. Despite all the surrounding counties entering Phase 3 of the governor’s Safe Start plan, Spokane County still has too high of a disease burden to meet the requirements to move ahead, although not all requirements need to be met to apply.

The state goal is to have a 2% positivity rate of those being tested for COVID-19. In the past week, Spokane County had a 5.5% rate, according to the state data used to evaluate county readiness.

Lutz told reporters Monday that Phase 2 could last the longest of the phases.

“I think Phase 2 is the phase that will be the lengthiest because we’ve gone essentially from closed down to open,” Lutz said. “Although we are supposedly limiting our interactions to five people, that’s not what I’ve been seeing,” Lutz said.

Over the weekend, thousands of people protested police brutality against Black people in America, including in Spokane as well as several other cities statewide. The large gatherings present risks for spreading COVID-19, health officials acknowledged Monday. State Secretary of Health John Wiesman said that he is concerned about the potential uptick in cases due to the gatherings. He said that while it’s better to be outdoors than indoors, physical distancing is better than being close together.

“If you have to be within six feet of folks, wear a cloth face covering,” Wiesman told reporters Monday. “This is all about managing risk, so if you’re ill, stay home.”

If people attend a protest, health officials encouraged them to wear masks.

“We’re in a different normal, and we need people to think about this constantly,” Wiesman said, encouraging anyone experiencing symptoms to get tested for COVID-19 right away.

Increasing testing capacity is also vital to meeting state goals to moving to the next phase. It can also be used to determine how widespread COVID-19 is in the county. Lutz said there is no defined community strategy for testing, but the health district is working with several stakeholders to build one.

“What I’m talking about is trying to work with businesses, work with academia, work with the hospitals to figure out which kind of strategy could be one to give us a sense of the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community,” Lutz said.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to show that 55 cases of COVID-19 were reported on Friday, May 5, and 33 new cases were reported over the weekend.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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