Coronavirus Disease 2019 | COVID-19

Health Officer Directive Urges Spokane County Residents to Wear Cloth Face Coverings in Certain Public Places

On May 20, Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) Health Officer, Dr. Bob Lutz, issued a local health officer directive about the use of cloth face coverings to maintain the public’s health and prevent the spread of COVID-19, a contagious and infectious disease, as businesses begin to reopen in Spokane County. Spokane County residents at indoor or confined public settings are strongly recommended to wear cloth face coverings over their noses and mouths in situations where they are not able to maintain six feet distance from other people who do not live in their same household.

This directive does not reduce or eliminate requirements imposed by directives and orders from the governor or other regulatory local, state, or federal agencies, including employer-specific directives, from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

Which Public Settings Are Affected?

This directive applies to any indoor or confined public setting where a person will be within six feet of another individual who does not live in the same household. See the directive for a recommended list of business and public locations to wear cloth face coverings.

Individuals do not need to wear a face covering when outside walking, exercising, or otherwise outdoors if they are able to regularly stay 6 feet away from other people who do not live with them. Face coverings may not be appropriate for some individuals with certain health conditions or communication needs. Please see list of exceptions below (see “Does Everyone Have to Wear a Face Covering”).

All commercial establishments in Spokane County are directed to post signage advising individuals to wear face coverings on the premises. Businesses can download a sign for this purpose below.


Why Is It Important to Wear Cloth Face Coverings?

CDC recommends that people cover their noses and mouths with a cloth face covering to prevent spreading COVID-19 in public settings where it’s difficult to maintain physical distancing measures (staying six feet apart).

Researchers are finding that many people who have COVID-19 do not have any symptoms (they are asymptomatic) but are able to spread the virus without knowing it. When a face covering is worn by someone who is infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, it can help prevent the spread of infection to others. A face covering can help by blocking infectious droplets that spread when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes, breathes or speaks.

Why is it important to wear face coverings now when it wasn’t encouraged before?

There is a lot of confusion about why it is important to wear masks now when it wasn’t previously encouraged. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the public was asked to avoid wearing medical-grade masks. Medical grade masks like surgical masks and N95 masks are necessary pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and should be preserved for that use—to ensure healthcare workers’ safety. The public was asked to avoid using these critical supplies.

More information is now available about how COVID-19 spreads, including that individuals who are asymptomatic can spread the virus. People are asked to wear cloth face coverings in public to avoid spreading the virus to others, because they may have the virus without knowing it. This is an important action we all can take to prevent a second wave of new COVID-19 infections and help businesses remain open during this phased approach to reopen Washington.

Does Everyone Have to Wear a Face Covering?

Some people do not need to comply with the directive to wear face masks for specific health-related reasons; this includes the following:

  • Any child aged 2 years or less
  • Any child aged 12 years or less unless parents and caregivers supervise their use of face coverings (learn more about how to help children wear cloth face coverings)
  • Any individual who has a physical disability that prevents easily wearing or removing a face covering
  • Any individual who is deaf and uses facial and mouth movements as part of communication or an individual who is communicating with a person who is deaf and uses facial and mouth movements as part of communication
  • Any individual who has been told by a medical professional that wearing a face covering may pose a health risk to that individual
  • Any individual who has trouble breathing, is unconscious or unable to remove the face covering without help

What If Someone Is Not Wearing a Face Covering?

It is strongly recommended that individuals follow this directive. There are no criminal, civil or financial penalties associated with failure to comply. Residents are asked to comply in order to educate, encourage and persuade others to wear face coverings. By wearing face coverings, you are protecting others and they are protecting you from possible exposure to COVID-19.

About Cloth Face Coverings

What kinds of masks are OK to Use?

Medical grade masks, surgical masks, and N95 respirators are needed for healthcare workers and first responders who are on the front lines working to protect our communities. Unfortunately, these masks are in short supply. To help slow the spread of COVID-19, individuals should wear non-medical grade cloth face coverings, such as cloth face masks, scarves and bandana coverings or other materials as recommended by CDC.

How to wear a mask

According to CDC, cloth face coverings should—

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops
  • Include multiple layers of fabric
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

For information about helping children to wear a mask, see this article from the Washington State Department of Health.

How to use a mask safely

Cloth face masks must be worn properly to avoid contaminating the hands or face of the user.

  • Before putting on a mask and after removing a mask, an individual should clean their hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water.
  • Change masks when moist and wash after use.
  • While in use, avoid touching the mask. Worn masks may be contaminated with infectious agents

Where can I find a cloth face covering?

More and more retailers are selling cloth face coverings online and in stores. Spokane County United Way is offering a way to link people who need face coverings to people who make face coverings through the Washington Mask Challenge. The website also provides information on how to make and clean masks.

Signs for Businesses