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Unmasked people may be asked to leave city buildings

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Local residents who don’t follow a state mandate to wear masks could be asked to leave municipal buildings if they enter without one.

The Walla Walla City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution that encourages residents and visitors to wear face coverings to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The seven-member Council also unanimously approved an ordinance consistent with the order issued by the state secretary of Health, requiring people to wear masks or other coverings in indoor public settings and outdoors when 6-foot distances can’t be maintained starting Friday.

The ordinance adds a condition allowing city officials or department heads to ask unmasked people to leave buildings rather than request a misdemeanor citation, City Attorney Tim Donaldson said.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office has said violation of the statewide mask order is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

The mask order, issued by Secretary of Health John Wiesman, provides exemptions for children under the age of 2 and for people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

The edict notes face masks for children ages 3-5 are strongly recommended, but not required.

Those participating in activities alone or with household members and those eating at restaurants won’t have to wear masks as long as they are physically distanced from others.

City department directors expressed concern about what to do when city buildings reopen, and employees are part of the vulnerable population.

“Those of us who work for the city would much rather have the remedy of being able to ask people who aren’t wearing masks to leave as opposed to calling the cops you know and having them cited for a crime,” Donaldson said.

Before the order was issued, Walla Walla City Council discussed at Monday’s work session taking a pledge to wear a mask when going into buildings, closed areas or outdoors in crowds where social distance is not possible.

City leaders had hoped the pledge would set an example for guests and residents to take the health guidelines seriously to prevent the spread of coronavirus while Walla Walla is experiencing an economic rebound.

Local leaders have been working to distribute masks, Blue Mountain Action Council distributed 36,000 masks in the community for low-income families, with the acquisition from the local emergency management department, Council member Ted Koehler said.

The state provided the masks, Elizabeth Chamberlain, director of Development Services said in the city’s video series.

The city has worked with the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation to put up stickers on every traffic signal post downtown, encouraging mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing, and hygiene, City Manager Nabiel Shawa said.

Two to three hand-washing stations will be positioned on Main Street for this weekend’s crowds, he said.

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Chloe LeValley can be reached at chloelevalley@wwub.com or 509-526-8326.

Chloe LeValley covers the cities of Walla Walla and College Place as well as agriculture and the environment in the Walla Walla Valley. She is a graduate of San Francisco State University and joined the Union-Bulletin's team in October 2019.