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Thurston County’s Acting Health Officer Dr. Diana Yu on Wednesday afternoon issued a directive requiring masks or face coverings in some public places just hours after the county received the OK from the state to enter into phase 2 of the governor’s “Safe Start” plan.

This directive will not be enforced, Yu said, but will rather be used as an education directive to encourage use of masks amid the pandemic.

According to a news release, Yu issued the masking requirement for individuals when in indoor public settings or outdoor public locations where they cannot maintain appropriate social distancing of 6 feet from other people.

The county is recommending the public use any fabric or Centers for Disease Control-recommended masks to cover their nose and faces while out in public, with an exception for when individuals are eating and drinking.

“I’m exercising my authority as Health Officer for Thurston County to require that people wear cloth face coverings in particular circumstances,” Yu said in prepared remarks, adding that using face coverings don’t replace the need to have individuals physically distance and practice good hygiene.

“With our approval to begin Phase 2 of Safe Start Recovery, it’s more important than ever that people be cautious, responsible, and considerate of others. We want to continue moving forward as a county. Without extra caution, we risk back-sliding,” she said.

Face masks will be required by the county at the following establishments, Yu said: Grocery stores, pharmacies, food and beverage retailers, corner and convenience stores, farmers’ markets, food banks, farm and produce stands, big box stores, supermarkets, essential commercial retail stores, pet supply stores, auto supply and repair stores, hardware and home improvement stores, garden stores, office supply stores and home appliance retailers.

Yu also listed a number of exemptions, such as children under the age of 3, children 4 to 12 if parents or guardians cannot supervise face mask usage, individuals with disabilities that prevent them from comfortably wearing masks, deaf individuals who may use face and mouth movements in order to communicate, individuals who have been medically advised not to wear a face mask, or any individuals who have trouble breathing while wearing a face mask.

The full press release is below. This story will be updated.

OLYMPIA – Today, Thurston County Health Officer, Dr. Diana Yu, issued a masking directive indicating that all individuals must wear face coverings over their noses and mouths, except when eating or drinking, when they will be at indoor public settings, or outdoor public locations where they cannot maintain distancing of approximately six feet from another individual who does not share their household.

People can use fabric coverings, such as cloth face masks, scarves, and bandana coverings or other material as recommended by CDC. N95 masks are still reserved for health care providers.

Individuals must wear cloth face masks properly to avoid contaminating their hands or face. Before putting on a mask and after removing a mask, individuals should clean their hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water, change masks when moist, and wash after use. Remember to avoid touching the mask while in use. Worn masks may be contaminated with infectious agents.

People should continue washing hands frequently with soap and water, avoid touching their faces, avoid gatherings of more than 5 people, and continue staying at least 6 feet away from one another.

“I’m exercising my authority as Health Officer for Thurston County to require that people wear cloth face coverings in particular circumstances,” said Thurston County Health Officer, Dr. Diana Yu. “With our approval to begin Phase 2 of Safe Start Recovery, it’s more important than ever that people be cautious, responsible, and considerate of others. We want to continue moving forward as a county. Without extra caution, we risk back-sliding.”

Certain people are exempt from this directive:

Any child aged three years or less;

Any child aged 4-12 years unless parents and caregivers supervise the use of face coverings by children to avoid misuse;

Any individual who has any type of disability that prevents them from comfortably wearing or removing a face covering;

Any individual who is deaf and uses facial and mouth movements as part of communication;

Any individual who has been advised by a medical, legal, or behavioral health professional that wearing a face covering may pose a risk to that individual;

Any individual who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance.

Using a face covering does not replace the need to practice physical distancing (staying away from ill people, staying home when ill, and avoiding all non-essential activities and contact with others), frequent handwashing, and avoiding touching of the face.

The directive applies to any indoor public setting or outdoor public location where a person will be in within six feet of another individual, who does not share the same household, and includes, but is not limited to, the following sectors:

• Groceries, pharmacies, and other retail that sells food and beverage products, including but not limited to grocery stores, corner stores and convenience stores (including liquor stores), farmers’ markets, food banks, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, big box stores that sell groceries, and essentials and similar food retail establishments.

• Commercial retail stores that supply essential sectors, including convenience stores, pet supply stores, auto supplies and repair, hardware and home improvement, garden stores and nurseries that support food cultivation and production, office supply stores that support working-from-home, and home appliance retailers.

All commercial establishments in Thurston County are directed to post signage advising individuals to wear face coverings on the premises. Signage will be available for download at Thurston County Public Health and Social Services.

A violation of the directive does not create grounds for residents or law enforcement to stop, detain, issue a citation, arrest, intimidate, or harass individuals who are not in compliance. Instead, the directive should be used to educate, encourage, and persuade individuals to wear face coverings.

Yu said, “I strongly urge all people in Thurston County to support the health and well-being of the community by complying with this directive without delay.”

The Face Covering Directive is available in its entirety at: https://www.thurstoncountywa.gov/phss/phssdocuments/HOFaceCovering-directive-order%20FINAL.pdf

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