In a press conference on Monday, Seattle & King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin issued a public health directive requiring everyone to wear face coverings indoors and sometimes outdoors while continuing to maintain physical distancing at all times.
And we're not talking about N95 medical masks, which should still be reserved for health care workers, we're talking about fabric masks, disposable non-medical masks, scarves, and bandanas.
Dr. Duchin said snug, multi-layered face coverings are best to block "virus-containing droplets" created when someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine joined Duchin on the call.
If people are going to the grocery store, to the pharmacy, or to any other place where physical distancing feels difficult, Constantine said, they have to wear a mask. And while people don't have to wear a mask outside, they should wear one if they're going to any confined areas, such as a farmer's market or a restaurant's curbside pick-up location.
"It may feel awkward. It may look a little silly. But it is a sign of our mutual concern for each other,” Constantine said.
Constantine also announced that King County will require the use of face coverings on Metro.
Dr. Duchin directed "all commercial establishments" to post signage telling people to wear masks, and Mayor Durkan said businesses may tell people they can't come in if they're not wearing a mask, but they cannot discriminate.
There will be no legal penalty for refusing to wear masks, and cops can't stop or detain people for not wearing them, but wearing masks is nevertheless "strongly encouraged," Dr. Duchin said.
The directive is necessary, Dr. Duchin added, to help slow the spread of COVID-19. "I'd rather see people lock down their mouths and noses than lockdown their neighborhoods," he said, noting that people returning to work soon poses a "real threat that the outbreak will flare up."
He stressed, however, that face coverings can reduce but will not eliminate the risk of transmission. To make them as effective as possible, he encouraged people to follow proper protocol when donning and doffing masks: sanitize or wash hands before and after use, change or wash masks when they're "moist," and avoid touching them when they're on.
To help reach people who may find it difficult to buy masks, Mayor Durkan said Seattle will distribute 45,000 face coverings to "community-based organizations," and Exec Constantine said the county will distribute 115,000 masks through other community-based organizations.
A new but unpublished study from a University of California-Berkeley computer scientist, De Kai, showed that "COVID-19 infection rates would statistically drop to approximately one-twelfth the number of infections" if 80% of the country started wearing masks and maintained social distancing.
Last Friday's report from the Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) showed transmission rates across the state have been "likely" rising since the beginning of April. Moreover, in the last few weeks, the number of reported COVID-19 cases have hovered between 200 and 300 per day, which has been concerning State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy.
According to the Department of Health, total case counts and hospitalizations may appear to be plateauing or rising due to increased testing over the last two weeks, increased contact between people, new outbreaks at meatpacking plants out east, and increased follow-up testing in places where those large outbreaks have occurred.
The IDM accounts for increased testing in their model, but admits the "effects of changes in testing volume and testing eligibility [on their model] are not completely clear." They note, however, that traffic across the state (i.e., King County and Spokane) has steadily risen since early April, which suggests that people have been in contact with other people more, which sucks!
So listen to the public health experts and wrap your face in something when you go anywhere, people.