Masks and Face Coverings

Page updated: Sunday, July 26, 11:59 am

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There are currently three face covering orders in place for Washington State:

  • Starting June 8, 2020, employers are required to provide face coverings that must be worn by all employees who don’t work alone at no cost to the employee.
  • Starting June 26, 2020, all individuals must wear a face covering in indoor public spaces and in outdoor public settings when you can’t stay six feet apart from others.
  • Starting July 7, 2020, businesses are required and enforce the use of face coverings by all customers, clients, and visitors.
  • Starting July 25, 2020, all individuals are required to use face coverings in any shared spaces, public or private. This includes condo and apartment buildings, fraternities/sororities, hotels/motels, nursing homes, assisted living, and adult family homes.

For more information, see this overview of COVID-19 statewide face covering requirements and the Masks and Face Covering Guidance from Washington State Department of Health.

Why Wear a Face Covering

Face coverings are an additional tool we can use to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community. They protect others by blocking droplets that contain the virus from spreading to others when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes, or speaks.

Face coverings do not replace the need for frequent handwashing or social distancing measures.

Where You Need To Wear A Face Covering

Washington State residents and visitors must wear face coverings in most public settings. Wear a face covering when you are at any indoor or outdoor public space where you may be within six feet of someone who does not live with you.

Public spaces include:

  • Stores that sell food and beverages, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, and farmer’s markets.
  • Retail stores, such as auto supply stores, hardware stores, and garden stores. 
  • Restaurant take-out businesses. Employees who prepare, carry out, and deliver food must wear masks.
  • Buses, rideshares, and other forms of public transportation.
  • Workplaces for manufacturing, agriculture, construction, and other trades.
  • Outdoor public settings when you cannot maintain six feet of distance between yourself and others.

This order will remain in effect until it is repealed or replaced by the Secretary of Health, or until it is ended by the Governor.

Who Should Wear a Face Covering

Everyone is required to wear face coverings in public settings unless they are in one of the following groups:

  • Children younger than five years old:
    • Children who are younger than two years old should never wear face coverings due to risk of suffocation. 
    • It is strongly recommended that children who are two to four years old use face coverings in public settings with the assistance and close supervision of an adult.
  • Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering. This includes, but is not limited to, persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing, who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance.

What Kind of Face Coverings to Use

Face coverings are also called cloth masks, face coverings, or face masks. You can use:

  • Cloth face mask
  • Scarves
  • Bandanas 

Face coverings should fit snugly over your nose and mouth. Do not use medical masks or N95 respirators. These should be saved for healthcare workers and people who have special health needs.  The CDC has sew, and no sew, instructions for making your own face covering. If you would rather purchase a face covering there are a variety online retail options

For more information see this document about what type of face covering to use.

Are clear face shields a good alternative to cloth face covering?

The CDC and L&I don’t recommend face shields as a substitute for a cloth face covering (mask). But face shields can be used by children in child care and K-12 schools.

We don’t know yet if face shields do enough to protect other people from the spray (or respiratory droplets) that can come out of your mouth. Face shields might stop large droplets (like when you sneeze). But they might not stop other droplets you create when you breathe or talk, and those droplets can escape through the open sides and bottom of the shield.

If someone chooses to wear a face shield, it should warp around the face and extend below their chin. The best way to use a face shield is to wear it together with a cloth face covering.

If you use a face shield, be sure to clean and disinfect it daily, and wash your hands after touching it.

How to Properly Wear Face Coverings 

  • 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 face covering after each use.

Learn more about how to appropriately wear a face covering here: 

Additional guidance on using face coverings is available from the Washington State Department of Health.

Where to Get a Face Covering If You Can’t Buy One

To help individuals in need of a mask, Whatcom Unified Command has distributed more than 137,000 masks to social service partners throughout Whatcom County who have and will continue to, distribute masks to their clients and subsidiary agencies. The distribution includes agencies that provide direct service or support to populations that are vulnerable or low-income, such as:

  • Food banks
  • Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe
  • All public school districts (distributed by Bellingham School District)
  • Whatcom Homeless Service Center
  • Council on Aging
  • Opportunity Council, and
  • Sea Mar Community Health Center


If you are an individual in need of a mask, please contact your local food bank or social service provider. 

If you are an agency that serves individuals who are low income and reside in Whatcom County, Lummi Reservation, or Nooksack Reservation, Whatcom Unified Command has partnered with the North Sound Accountable Community of Health to distribute 40,000 cloth masks to our community’s most vulnerable residents. Request cloth masks on this form. 

If you are a business in need of face coverings or masks, Whatcom Unified Command distributed 100,000 to local Chambers of Commerce in June to help businesses reopen.  Check the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce website for details and current availability. Access a copy of local vendors for masks and other personal protective equipment on the Whatcom Unified Command’s website


Information for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deafblind Community Members

This directive affects community members who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deafblind in different ways than others. We’ve compiled resources to explain how the directive applies to you if you are deaf, hard of hearing, or deafblind .

Guidance For Businesses & Employers

Starting June 8, all employees are required to wear a cloth facial covering unless they work completely alone or the job has no in-person interaction.

Employers must provide cloth facial coverings to employees, unless a higher level of protection is required by their job duties. Employees may choose to wear their own facial covering at work, but it must meet the minimum level of protection based on their exposure risk. 

The minimum level of protection required for workers, based on exposure risk, can be found in this chart from L&I. Additional guidance from L&I about when employees should use cloth face coverings and when they are required to use respirators can be found in this publication.

Businesses in Whatcom County are mandated to require customers, clients, and visitors to use face coverings. You can find signs to post at your business or place of employment in the upper right side of this page. 

The order does not require a customer to provide documentation or a reason if they are unable to wear a face covering. Businesses are encouraged to offer some kind of accommodation for these customers such as curbside pickup, delivery, or a scheduled appointment when physical distancing can be ensured. More information can be found in the overview of face covering requirements.

Enforcement

People are urged to comply with this State Health Order because it is an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Members of the public are required by law to comply with this order. Noncompliance with this order may be subject to criminal penalties pursuant to RCW 43.70.130(7), RCW 70.05.120(4), and WAC 246-100-070(3).

If you see an individual who is not wearing a face covering, practice compassion, and remember that some people have conditions or circumstances that would make wearing a cloth face covering difficult or dangerous. Just wear your face covering, stay six feet away, and wash your hands often.  

Businesses not following this order can be reported using the state’s online complaint form. Compliance will be monitored by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries as a safety and health violation. A violation could carry a penalty of nearly $10,000 or more.

Please do not call 911 to report non-compliance with this order. Only call 911 in an emergency.