The CDC now recommends using a face covering whenever available while out and about, particularly while in proximity of other people. This is due to the droplets that COVID-19 can be spread through, coming from the nose and mouth, being blocked by the mask. A common misconception is that the mask is there to protect yourself; rather, most coverings are there to protect others from the droplets spread by the wearer, meaning that widespread mask usage is necessary for it to be effective. This is due to the high rate of non-symptomatic cases of COVID-19. The need for masks especially goes for those with jobs that cause them to interact with the public frequently, and many establishments have taken this precaution without government intervention.
There is also a public health directive in King County and Seattle to wear masks whenever in public settings, announced by Seattle and King County leaders on Monday, May 11 — including Mayor of Seattle Jenny Durkan, and King County Executive Dow Constantine. The directive mirrors CDC regulations and requires all citizens of King County and the city of Seattle to wear masks in public spaces, particularly when they cannot socially distance themselves. This includes stores, restaurants (which are take-out only, as of now), and public transportation. While the school is in its limited-access state, Seattle Central also requires the usage of face masks according to an email sent out about campus entry: “Please treat this like you would a visit to the grocery store: wear a face covering, limit the areas you visit and the surfaces you touch.” This request comes at the behest of a public administration that understands that public servants should be following all King County and City of Seattle directives aimed at keeping the broader population safe.
However, according to eyewitnesses, it is unclear how seriously SPD is taking the CDC recommendations. Officers have been spotted interacting with citizens without masks, with their masks pulled down, or with improper usage. They have reportedly been caught mask-less and improperly masked both while simply speaking with members of the public and while actively carrying out their duties. One such personal account is that of a photographer as he calls into an NPR conversation featuring Mayor Jenny Durkan: “I have photo after photo and experience after experience, in which I’ve never seen a Seattle cop wear a face mask,” says Gene of Green Lake. The correct way to wear a mask is with the entirety of the fabric or material covering the nose and mouth, without gaps, bunching, or sagging. Pulling the mask down to speak neutralizes any of the protection given by the mask wearer. Having one’s nose out exposes passersby to nasal droplets.
The Seattle Police Department’s official stance on mask usage was given through an email by the City of Seattle Joint Information Center: “The Seattle Police Department will be following the City’s COVID-19 Face Covering Policy for City of Seattle Employees, which was sent out on May 14, 2020.” Mayor Jenny Durkan specifically requests all employees under the city follow this new directive: “Wearing cloth face coverings is part of the new normal, and we must follow this guidance.” More specific to the police, in response to the previously stated personal account from an NPR caller, Mayor Jenny Durkan pointed out the police’s need for participation. “Police are not exempt and Chief Best and I have talked about this. We’re working with the troops to make sure that anytime that they can’t socially distance they do wear face coverings,” she says. There is a requirement for PPE when the potential of infectious disease is present and for officers to comply with CDC regulations, specified in their Bloodborne Pathogens Exposure Control section. Their Airborne Pathogens section is largely focused on tuberculosis, last updated in 2013. However, there’s no mention of wearing face coverings for COVID-19 anywhere in the manual or on their website, the police blotter, or on their Twitter.There isresearch to suggest the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This is why there has been such a growing effort to make, donate (Providence has a 100 Million Masks Drive), and sell cloth face masks, both across the nation and locally, in order to leave the important N95 respirators and paper face masks for the front line responders. There are ordinances in place to regulate the usage of face masks and encourage them. Ultimately, however, it is an individual’s choice to wear the mask — whether they are law enforcement or not, it seems there is no enforcement in place and no one will be penalized for not wearing one.
Danny Barber is the Managing Editor of the Seattle Collegian and an English student at Seattle Central college. She enjoys writing creatively, drawing, baking, video games, and going on long-winded random internet research sessions. After Seattle Central, she plans on getting her Master’s in English and working on the editorial board of another paper someday.