Businesses statewide are now required to refuse service to anyone not wearing a face covering. This and other restrictions announced last week by Gov. Jay Inslee and state Secretary of Health John Weisman are in response to rising cases of COVID-19 in six counties.
The legal requirement was first put in place in Yakima County in June, where a severe outbreak of COVID-19 has crippled the area’s hospital capacity.
Last week, Inslee announced the masking measure will be required statewide.
“We’re doing this because of a spike in cases of COVID-19 all over the state,” the governor said.
“The better we can protect ourselves from the virus, the better we can avoid repeating some of the painful measures we had to take in the spring to shut down the economy,” Inslee said.
Exemptions from the face covering order exist for those with medical conditions and children under the age of 2.
The U.S. Department of Justice is warning citizens of fraudulent “exemption cards” which are being sold and circulated online. The laminated cards assert that the carrier is exempt from any face covering requirement but according to the federal officials, the cards do not carry the force of law.
One highly circulated iteration is available for purchase online in boxes of 500 for $50 and asserts protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA does not provide a blanket exemption to people with disabilities from complying with safety requirements, according to a DOJ press release.
“All of that stuff is just plain bogus,” Tom Locke Jefferson County Public Health officer said of homemade exemption cards. “There’s no constitutional right to spread infectious diseases to other people.”
Masks have been used for decades as a way to stop the spread of infections, and the cases of people who can’t use a mask for authentic medical reasons are very rare.
Face masks have been commonly used by very frail people, and those with advanced medical conditions such as heart disease, he said.
“They tolerate masks just fine,” Locke said.
Those who can’t wear masks typically suffer from psychological issues — such as panic attacks — or are assault survivors or people with developmental disabilities.
If a person with that type of disability is unable to wear a mask, then the ADA requires that they be given reasonable accommodations in order to receive services. These accommodations could be things like wearing a face shield instead of a mask, wearing a scarf or loose face covering instead of a tight-fitting one, or making accommodations for outdoor pick up of goods or appointments via telephone or video.
These accommodations, however, are only for people with disabilities. The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” A person with a disability also must also have a “history or a record of such impairment” or be “perceived by others as having such an impairment.”
“A reality of the current situation is people who do not wear masks are not going to be able to do everything they want to do,” Locke said at this week’s county commissioners meeting.
Inslee said he is optimistic that citizens and businesses will comply with the face covering order. If they do not, individuals can face criminal penalties and businesses can face fines or state mandated closure.
“This is not an optional plan for businesses,” Inslee said. “This is a legal requirement.”