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Emily Brazil of Jo-Ann Fabrics assists a customer outside in a social distancing line Friday, May 29, 2020, in Yakima, Wash.

The Yakima Health District has issued a directive that urges people wear face coverings over their nose and mouth in public to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Teresa Everson, health officer at the Yakima Health District, issued the directive. It applies to settings where people may be within 6 feet of others who don't live with them. It takes effect Wednesday, and will stay in place until no longer needed.

Directives are based on individual compliance by the public, and people will not be penalized. The face coverings can be cloth masks, scarves or bandanas. 

The Yakima Health District will partner with the Yakima Valley Office of Emergency Management to distribute 330,000 masks over the next week, according to the news release. The organizations will be working with community-based organizations to distribute masks to vulnerable community members, including essential workers, people experiencing homelessness, older adults and staff at food banks.

The directive applies to workers and customers of groceries, pharmacies, big box stores and other essential establishments, including pet supplies, auto repairs, and home improvement stores, the release said. Restaurants with carry-out and food delivery should comply as well.

COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, spreads between people who are within about 6 feet of each other through respiratory droplets, which are created when someone talks, coughs or sneezes.

Most people with COVID-19 have a mild illness and recover at home. Some never show symptoms but can still spread the disease. It can be particularly lethal for older people and those with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions.

"Wearing a face covering helps prevent the spread of infection to others by blocking infectious droplets from spreading when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes and speaks," Everson said in the release.

"Individuals can be infected and contagious before or even without developing symptoms. Evidence suggests a significant number of infections may be transmitted in this way."

Mask exceptions include children, people with disabilities, deaf individuals who use facial movements as part of communication, and individuals advised by their medical care providers that wearing a facial covering will jeopardize their health, according to the release.

More cases

The directive comes as COVID-19 deaths and confirmed cases increased over the weekend.  Yakima County has had 3,677 coronavirus cases since mid-March, and 90 people have died, according to updated numbers released Monday morning by the Yakima Health District.

Forty people are hospitalized and 10 are intubated as of Monday, and 1,283 people have recovered from the disease.

A recent observational study conducted over Memorial Day weekend across Yakima County, in partnership with Virginia Mason Memorial, found only 35% of community members were wearing masks when going to the grocery store or other essential businesses.

It's recommended that 80% of community members wear face masks to support reduced transmission of COVID-19.

Many people have made masks for themselves and others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides tips on how to make cloth face coverings.

Yakima County has more COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations per capita compared to other places in the state, as well as a higher transmission rate. It will continue to stay in Phase 1 of the state’s four-stage reopening plan. People can help with reopening by wearing masks and thus helping slow the spread.

"Every Yakima County resident must know that their actions will affect how soon our community can safely re-open. One of these actions is to wear a mask every time you are in a place where you cannot safely social distance," Everson said.

"Universal masking, along with staying at home as much as possible and other social distancing measures, are the most effective actions we can take as individuals, and as part of the community, to ensure we can slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.