MAY FILE PHOTO — A bull wearing an American-flag emblazoned surgical mask signifies the sign of the times at the now-shuttered Walt's Place on Highway 507 in McKenna.

State and local law enforcement agencies say they plan on taking an educational approach when it comes to Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide face mask mandate, which goes into effect on Friday.

The Yelm Police Department, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington State Patrol this week said that while they fully encourage people to continue wearing face coverings to slow the spread of the virus, they will not be enforcing Gov. Jay Inslee’s face covering mandate.

“Due to the minor nature of this offense, and the possibility for a negative outcome during an enforcement encounter and various ways in which the order may be violated, it would be inappropriate for deputies to criminally enforce this mandate,” the Thurston County Sheriff’s Department said in a Wednesday news release.

The department plans on educating and engaging those who violate the mandate.

Deputies are also not required by the department to wear face coverings, according to the news release. That decision is up to each officer’s discretion.

“Putting on the necessary precautionary equipment in an emergent response may delay them to provide assistance to a victim or jeopardize their own personal safety, so they will not be required to wear them,” according to the release.

Inslee announced the mandate for people to wear face masks during a Tuesday press conference. The requirement goes into effect Friday, June 26.

Masks or face covering are required when indoors or when people are outdoors and within 6 feet of other people outside their immediate household. It also applies to people waiting for or riding public transit and people seeking health care services.

There are exceptions for children under the age of 5 and people with a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a face covering.

“Ideally there won’t be any criminal or civil sanctions for individuals,” Inslee said, though a spokesman with his office later reported to multiple news outlets that violation of the mask order could result in a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a fine up to $1,000.

Face coverings have been shown to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, health officials have said. Public health officials, including Acting Thurston County Health Officer Dr. Diana Yu, have repeatedly encouraged the use of them during recent months.

At the press conference, Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman said that between 20 and 40 percent of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, which along with “presymptomatic” transmission made up a notable amount of disease spread.

In a Thursday news release, the Washington State Patrol noted that its officers don’t anticipate detaining, citing or arresting violators of the face covering mandate.

“WSP will continue to communicate with and encourage all Washingtonians to make safety-focused decisions and follow all health-based directives from the governor as well as state and local health officials,” the state law enforcement department said.

Assistant Yelm Police Chief Rob Carlson said their department plans on following in the footsteps of WSP and Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.

“We’re just there to educate and inform, and we’re not going to enforce any criminal action for someone not wearing a mask,” he said.

Within Carlson’s department, officers have been heavily encouraged to use face coverings when out in public and at the station, he said, but he noted that there are some scenarios when a face mask could impede their ability to do their job.

“There’s going to be so many incidents where they’ll just have to bob and weave with it,” he said. “When possible, when they can, we’re encouraging them to wear.”

During a recent Yelm City Council meeting, Mayor JW Foster noted the importance of using those coverings to help prevent spread of the disease as counties reopen.

“As the state opens up and people do more traveling and they bring their viruses with them, the risk to our community increases as well. So, the governor’s order for state-wide facial coverings is incredibly important to the continued safety of our community,” Foster said, adding that the city does not have the capacity to be an enforcement arm of state mandates.


The Reflector’s Rick Bannan contributed reporting to this story.

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