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caption: A person wearing a mask arrives at the Life Care Center of Kirkland on Monday, March 2, 2020, in Kirkland.
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A person wearing a mask arrives at the Life Care Center of Kirkland on Monday, March 2, 2020, in Kirkland.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

What's my role? Businesses consider enforcing Washington's face mask mandate

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee has made it mandatory for people to wear face coverings in public. That order takes effect Friday.

Meanwhile, business owners are pondering how they should operate under the new law.

The new mandate forces shops in Yakima County to deny entry to people without masks. But in King County, the order changes little.

As of Friday, going barefaced to a store will technically be a misdemeanor offense. But Inslee has said police will not be directed to arrest people.

Businesses are not interested in calling the police on customers, either. Still, some shops are considering what their role is in controlling the spread of coronavirus. Despite months of social distancing measures, including store closures, Covid-19 cases are creeping upward in King County.

So far, businesses have had varying reactions to the pandemic. In some stores, cashiers ask patrons where their masks are. In other places, an employee is stationed at the door, or masks are made available for customers without them.

At Dandelion Botanical Company in Ballard, the store's voicemail and website set an expectation that customers wear masks upon entry. In other places, it's business as usual.

The varied responses stem from the fact that although King County directed residents to wear masks in May, stores were not asked to enforce that. On Friday, they still won’t have to — despite the governor's order.

But some stores are looking at Inslee's order and considering their response. Meetings are being scheduled between managers and workers in some stores, including Novel Tree in Bellevue. At the Edmonds Bowl Ace Hardware, employees say they expect to hear from the store's owner, who is monitoring government orders. And in other places, workers are waiting for written directives from owners.

“We’re just waiting for the policy on how they want it to be handled," said Jeff Tapp of Peninsula Paint Co. on Bainbridge Island. "By Thursday, we are supposed to know in writing how they want us to proceed — do what’s right for the community and the public, and all of that.”

King County executive Dow Constantine told KUOW this week that the governor's order empowers businesses. Now they can tell patrons without face coverings that wearing a mask is not just preferred —it's the law.

"We've all seen first hand, places where folks are just ignoring the advice," Constantine said. "And although they may think they're putting themselves at risk, what they're really doing is putting others at risk, and we can't allow that."