Media Release: Health Officer directs residents to use face coverings in indoor public settings, outdoors where social distancing is difficult


Public Health – Seattle & King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin, along with King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan, announced a new Health Officer Directive strongly urging face coverings in all indoor public places including grocery stores and other businesses, as well as outside settings where maintaining six feet of social distancing is difficult. This directive will go into effect May 18, 2020.


Joined by King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor A. Jenny Durkan and supported by local leaders,Public Health – Seattle & King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin today issued a Health Officer Directive for the public to use face coverings to reduce the spread of COVID-19 illness.

The Directive, effective on May 18, declares that all individuals at indoor or confined outdoor public settings are strongly urged to use face coverings over their nose and mouth.

Wearing a face covering can help prevent the spread of infection to others by blocking infectious droplets from spreading when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes and speaks. Individuals can be infected and contagious before or even without developing symptoms. Evidence suggests a significant number of infections may be transmitted in this way.

Because face masks such as N95 respirators continue to be reserved for health care workers, residents should use fabric coverings such as cloth masks, scarves or bandanas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides tips on how to make your own cloth face covering

The Directive applies to both workers and patrons of groceries, pharmacies, big box stores, and other essential establishments, including pet supplies, auto repairs, and home improvement stores. Restaurants with carry-out and food delivery must comply as well. Face coverings do not need to be worn outside unless appropriate social distancing cannot be practiced, such as at farmers markets.

Exceptions to the Health Directive include children, people with disabilities, deaf individuals who use facial movements as part of communication, and others. Health Officer Directives are based on individual compliance by the public; there is no penalty for not wearing a face covering.

The Directive will be in effect until it is no longer needed and rescinded by Dr. Duchin.

Executive Constantine also announced that operators and riders on King County Metro will be required to wear face coverings. Metro operators will not prevent passengers without face coverings from boarding, but recorded reminders will play on Metro vehicle public address systems informing riders of the face covering policy. Security officers will communicate public health guidance to riders who are not wearing a face covering or not staying apart from other passengers.

King County is distributing 115,000 face coverings and masks through community-based organizations. The City of Seattle is working with community-based organizations to distribute over 45,000 cloth face coverings to vulnerable communities, including people experiencing homelessness, older adults, and staff at food banks. Community partners are identifying eligible people based off their existing client lists.

As of May 10, 7,046 King County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 498 have died due to COVID-19 illness.

The full Health Officer Directive and summary, FAQ, posters and visual materials are posted at


King County Executive Dow Constantine

“This is a precarious time in our response to this virus. Our state is poised to loosen some social distancing restrictions, but only if the rate of infection continues to decline. For us to be able to confidently walk the path to greater normalcy, we must do everything possible to keep people safe and avoid a rebound in infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

“We must ask people to take the steps, informed by public health, to once again change everyday life in service of the health of all. By doing this one thing – wearing a face covering in public settings – we can do more to protect our most vulnerable, and increase the odds that the limited resumption of activities will be successful.”

City of Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

“While we have flattened the curve, saved lives, and prevented our health care systems from being overwhelmed, we have to remember that there are significantly more cases in our community now than early March when we began restrictions.

“In accordance with public health guidance, this Health Directive will be critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Wearing face coverings is part of the new normal. While public health requirements like this are new to our community, we all must to our part to follow this guidance. It’s up to all of us to protect the health and safety of our communities.” 

Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County

“As we begin to get back to work, the threat of increasing COVID-19 transmission is serious. We should do all we can to prevent spread to our friends, neighbors and all community members.  By wearing a face mask, we protect others from COVID-19 infection and show that we care. Your mask protects me and my mask protects you. Be safe, maintain space and cover your face.”

Kenmore Mayor and King County Board of Health Member David Baker

“I strongly support Dr. Duchin’s Directive on wearing face coverings in public. To help ensure community compliance, Kenmore has purchased 5,000 masks to give out to our residents. While our region has seen progress against COVID-19, we are still seeing new cases every day, and it is imperative that folks follow this directive and continue to practice other precautions such as social distancing. All these measures serve to keep people safe and will help us restore everyday routines and our robust economy.”

Michelle Merriweather, President and CEO, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle 

“We must protect our most vulnerable neighbors. We are all in this together. What I do impacts you, what you do impacts me. Staying home is the best path to slow the spread, but we know that our most vulnerable don’t have that luxury. Wearing a face covering or mask when you have to go out is one way to slow the spread of this pandemic.

Now that face coverings and masks are a part of our new normal, we have to educate our community on how to wear them properly to be safe. In addition, we have to educate people with power to not see Black and Brown people, especially Black men, as a threat for wearing a face covering in public to protect themselves and those they love.”

Matías Valenzuela, Director of COVID-19 Community Mitigation and Recovery, and Equity Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County

“Our communities of color are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. By wearing face covering, we are protecting our essential workers, many who live in multi-generational households and with many people who have underlying health conditions that are at greater risk for complications. We are also working hard to get face coverings to those organizations and communities who need them.”

UFCW 21 President Faye Guenther

“Grocery store workers are facing higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 in order to serve our communities. Many are already required to wear masks at work, and we’re very glad the public is joining in, because masks are most effective when we’re all wearing them to protect each other. Essential workers’ safety is dependent on customers joining in the shared effort to wear masks, stay home when sick, and practice good social distancing in stores at all times. We applaud the continued work of Seattle and King County to prevent transmission and bend the curve.”