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COVID-19 Facial Coverings — What’s Required?

June 30, 2020  by  Steve Gross
Category:  COVID-19

COVID-19 Facial Coverings — What’s Required?

Editor’s note: This article was written shortly after the first statewide facial covering requirements were issued in July 2020. For the latest information on facial covering requirements, see our blog post Face Coverings and Vaccine Requirements: Where Things Stand as of August 23, 2021.

As the state continues to reopen in phases, the most consistent recommendations from medical professionals regarding containment of the COVID-19 virus are fairly simple: 1) cover your nose and mouth to prevent the spread of airborne droplets, 2) stay at least six feet apart, and 3) wash your hands.

While the advice is simple, the practice can be more challenging. This blog post summarizes the current rules related to wearing facial coverings in public.


The current requirements that apply statewide are found in:

  • Washington State Secretary of Health’s Order 20-03.1 (effective July 24)
  • Governor Inslee’s Proclamation 20-25.7 (issued July 24)
  • Washington State Department of Health’s Safe Start Guide for state agencies (most recently updated July 13)

Order 20-03.1

Order 20-03.1 amends the original Order 20-03 and is in effect from July 24 until rescinded/superseded or until the current emergency is terminated, whichever comes first. It applies statewide unless a more restrictive state or local order has been issued. Order 20-03.1 says that face coverings are required whenever anyone leaves their “dwelling unit” as defined in the order, subject to specific exceptions. It also continues the original requirements that businesses cooperate with health guidelines and require customers to wear a face covering.

Children under age 5 and people with physical or mental medical conditions that prevent wearing a face covering are exempt from this requirement. However, the order recommends that children who are two, three, or four wear a face mask when a six-foot distance cannot be maintained and only if the child can be closely monitored by an adult.

People are also not required to wear masks in the following situations:

  • Outdoors, if you can keep at least six feet away from non-household members,
  • When eating or drinking, subject to social distancing requirements,
  • If a party to a conversation is deaf or hard of hearing,
  • If receiving a service that requires removal of the face covering (such as dental care),
  • While sleeping,
  • When necessary to confirm identity, or
  • When federal or state law prohibits wearing a face covering.

Proclamation 20-25.7 and the Safe Start Guide

Proclamation 20-25.7 is now in effect for the duration of the emergency, or until rescinded or amended, and places specific requirements on employers, employees, businesses, and individuals. Employees are required to wear a facial covering at work “except when working alone or when the job has no in-person interaction.” The proclamation requires employers to provide cloth facial coverings to employees unless their exposure levels dictate a higher level of protection (in which case, employers are required to provide the higher level of protective gear just as they would for any other work-related equipment requirement).

The Department of Labor and Industries has published guidance for employers on its Coronavirus Hazard Considerations for Employers (except COVID-19 care in hospitals & clinics) Face Coverings, Masks, and Respirator Choices page, which provides information on what types of facial coverings must be worn for various job situations depending on risk level, and on its Which Mask for Which Task? page, which provides easy-to-understand guidance document with photos of the different types of masks.

The Safe Start Guide provides some helpful examples. It says:

We consider someone to “work alone” when they are isolated from human interaction for an extended period of time. How often an employee works alone throughout the day may vary. Examples include: 

  • Lone worker in enclosed cab of crane or heavy equipment, vehicle or harvester.
  • Person with a four-walled office or above the head of a four-walled (with door opening) cubicle with no human interaction that breaks the cubicle space.
  • Person in middle of field alone or essentially alone with no anticipated human contact for an extended period of time.

Proclamation 20-25.7 also specifically prohibits a business from serving a customer unless that person is wearing face a covering as required under Order 20-03.1, and it specifically prohibits individuals from entering any place of business without wearing a face covering unless that person is specifically exempted under Order 20-03.1.

Since Order 20-03.1 and the Safe Start Guide both refer to the six-foot separation rule, your agency may want to include that in your internal reopening plan. You may also want to consider your specific building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, since determining which spaces share HVAC “zones” may help you decide how to rearrange your offices and how many of your employees you can bring back at any one time.

Compliance and Enforcement

There have been several news reports discussing how the requirements to wear facial coverings will be enforced. We address the applicable laws in our FAQ on enforcement of emergency orders.

The governor’s office discourages members of the public from confronting non-mask wearers. Instead, people should stay six feet away from non-wearers and continue about their business.

MRSC believes that local agencies may require employees to comply with directives to wear facial coverings, just as the agency can require employees to wear other protective gear.

As for customers and other public visitors to your agency’s facilities, we believe that you have the statutory authority to require them to wear a face covering if they want to conduct business in-person. The governor's office has issued an Overview of COVID-19 Statewide Face Covering Requirements, including best practices for business owners to enforce the rules in the event a customer does not wear a mask.

However, local agencies must continue to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act when considering restrictions or conditions of access to public buildings and transit facilities. Agencies should think about how they can provide reasonable accommodations if necessary. If someone is unable to wear a face covering, they do not need a card nor do they have to explain their condition to anyone. Agencies should provide reasonable alternatives to in-person contact if a visitor chooses not to wear a facial covering.

For some examples of local policies, see:

Gig Harbor Comprehensive COVID-19 Plan (last updated June 10) — This comprehensive document addresses a wide variety of topics, including face coverings and 30-day visitor logs for contact tracing purposes. The city reserves the right to refuse service and access to city facilities to anyone who appears ill or refuses to follow safety protocols.

Seattle COVID-19 Face Covering Policy and FAQs (May 14) — This covers mandatory face mask policies for employees, contractors, vendors, and visitors to city facilities. It includes useful FAQs such as:

  • What if I am unable to wear a face covering?
  • What if I refuse to wear a cloth face covering?
  • What can I do if a coworker works within six feet of me and is not wearing a face mask?
  • How will the city educate visitors about our face covering requirements?
  • What do I do if a visitor or member of the public refuses to wear a face covering after I have offered them one?

MRSC will continue to update our COVID-19 Resources for Local Governments webpage as we get additional direction from the state.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Steve Gross

Steve Gross joined MRSC as a Legal Consultant in January 2020.

Steve has worked in municipal law and government for over 20 years as an Assistant City Attorney for Lynnwood, Seattle, Tacoma, and Auburn, and as the City Attorney for Port Townsend and Auburn. He also has been a legal policy advisor for the Pierce County Council and has worked in contract administration.



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