Washington Makes Not Wearing a Face Mask a Misdemeanor Crime

Washington State announced Wednesday a new face mask requirement that will allow violators to be charged with a misdemeanor crime.

"Starting Friday, every Washingtonian must wear a facial covering when in a public space, as mandated by the public health order signed by [Secretary of Health John Wiesman]. This includes both indoor and outdoor public spaces," Governor Jay Inslee stated in a Medium post.

"Wearing a mask is one of the most effective things people can do to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Recent models suggest that the incidence of COVID-19 cases can be reduced if the majority of the population are wearing masks," the governor stated.

Those who do not abide with the new mandate are subject to be charged with a misdemeanor crime. A spokesperson for Inslee's office told Newsweek in an email they hope it does not come to that.

"Our hope is it does not have to be enforced through the legal system," the spokesperson said, adding that the mandate will be enforced by local law enforcement at their "discretion."

Washington has 29,386 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 1,284 deaths attributed to the virus, according to the health department's coronavirus tracker. There have also been 4,067 patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

The governor urged residents to wear a mask in a tweet Tuesday stating "If nurses and doctors can put their lives on the line, we can put a mask on."

If nurses and doctors can put their lives on the line, we can put a mask on. #WearAMaskWA

— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) June 23, 2020

Inslee wrote in a Facebook that the new mandate is "about saving lives. It's about reopening our businesses. And it's about showing respect and care for one another."

The mandate will go into effect Friday, June 26 as health officials hope to curve the spread of the novel coronavirus within communities. Weisman stated in the public health order that "the science is clear" on face coverings to assist in slowing the spread from droplets that go into the air when people "talk, cough or sneeze."

"While some of us are wearing face coverings in public, we must increase usage to best control the virus. Washington's strategy to restart the economy and get people back to work will only be successful if, together, we act safely and follow health recommendations," Wiesman said.

Inslee indicated that there will be exemptions for some residents as with previous orders. Those who have certain medical conditions or are children under the age of two will not have to wear a face covering, and children between two and four will be encouraged to wear masks, but not required.

"Masking up is not just something that saves lives, it can save economies. If we don't want to turn the dial back on phases in counties, we need every Washingtonian to join us in this effort," Inslee said in the Medium post.

Governor Jay Inslee
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee on March 28, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. The governor implemented a measure that will go into effect Friday, June 26 requiring Washingtonians to wear a mask in public spaces. Karen Ducey/Getty