What You Need to Know about King County’s Health Directive on Face Coverings

A new Health Officer directive strongly urges people in King County to wear face coverings in public places, both indoors in places such as grocery stores and businesses, and also outdoors when it’s difficult to maintain six feet apart from others. While face coverings do not replace proper hygiene or social distancing as protection measures, they can help to protect others and slow community spread of COVID-19 by blocking infectious droplets from spreading when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or speaks.

What kind of face coverings should you wear?

Wear non-medical face coverings in public spaces, such as cloth face masks, scarves, and bandanas that have multiple layers of fabric. Face coverings should fit snugly over your mouth and nose.

Medical-grade masks need to be saved for healthcare workers and others who have special health needs or work in high-risk settings. If you aren’t someone in one of these categories, please don’t wear surgical masks or N95 respirators. Surgical masks may look similar to other types of disposable masks. Look for labeling on the box: medical-grade masks may be labeled as surgical, isolation, dental, or medical procedure masks.

Where to get a face covering

If you don’t have scarves, bandanas or other cloth coverings at home, CDC has instructions for making your own cloth masks, including how to make a simple one from a cut-up T-shirt and a couple of rubber bands. Some disposable, non-medical masks may be available online or at hardware stores, pharmacies, big box stores and other retailers.

In addition, King County will supply approximately 115,000 face coverings and masks through community-based organizations. The City of Seattle will distribute 45,000 free face coverings to vulnerable communities, including people experiencing homelessness, older adults, and staff at food banks. The City’s community partners are identifying eligible people based off their existing client lists.

If you are part of an organization that needs free cloth face coverings, contact the Seattle Mask Brigade.

Where to wear a face covering

Wear face coverings at establishments like grocery stores, pharmacies, big box stores, take-out restaurants, and other retailers, whether you are working there or a customer. King County Executive Dow Constantine has also announced that that operators and riders on King County Metro transportation will be required to wear face coverings.

Businesses are required to post signage advising individuals to wear face coverings on the premises. Businesses can download a sign that can be used for this purpose at www.kingcounty.gov/masks

Face coverings don’t need to be worn outdoors unless you can’t maintain a physical distance of six feet from others. If you can keep the physical distance, a face covering is not needed when you are outside walking, exercising, or otherwise outside.

Who does not need to follow this directive

We recognize that it’s very challenging for some people to wear masks, and actually harmful in some specific cases. The following people do not need to follow this directive:

  • Children ages 2 years and younger. Babies and toddlers under age two should never wear cloth face coverings.
  • Children ages 2-12 years. Children in this age group should only wear a face covering if a parent or caregiver supervises to make sure it’s worn safely.
  • Anyone with a disability that makes it hard for them to wear or remove a face covering.
  • Anyone who is deaf and moves their face and mouth to communicate.
  • Anyone who has been advised by a medical professional to not wear a face covering because of personal health issues.
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, or unable to remove the face covering without help.

Discrimination for wearing or not wearing face coverings is against the law

Wearing face coverings protects the community from the spread of COVID-19, but as noted above, there are some legitimate reasons for some people not to wear face coverings. There is a long history of racism and discriminatory policies that Native, People of Color, immigrant and refugee, LGBTQ communities, homeless, and other marginalized communities have faced in Washington state that may impact an individual’s ability to feel safe while wearing a face covering. Across King County, racial and ethnic communities are experiencing increased acts of racism, racial profiling and violence, including as a result of wearing a face covering. Fear of discrimination and bodily harm may impact whether someone feels safe to wear a face covering, especially for Black and Brown men.

Everyone deserves to feel safe while wearing a face covering and not be subjected to stigma, bias or discrimination when wearing one. If someone is not wearing a face covering, we should also be accepting that the individual has a valid reason, including concerns for their own safety. We want to reiterate that King County will not tolerate hate and discrimination of any kind by anyone, including those agencies who are sworn to safeguard the welfare of our community. Discrimination, harassment, racial profiling, violence, and other hate crimes for wearing or not wearing a face covering is against the law.

We’re stronger as a community when we stand together against discrimination. If you witness or experience discrimination, you can report it using the resources listed on our Anti-Stigma Resources webpage.

Safe use of face coverings

To protect yourself, wear face coverings properly.

  • Your mask should cover your nose and mouth at all times.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before you put on a face covering and after removing it.
  • Change your face covering when it gets moist.
  • Wash your cloth face covering daily.

For more information, including frequently asked questions about the face covering directive: www.kingcounty.gov/masks