Washington Governor Jay Inslee makes face masks mandatory as the state sees a surge in COVID-19 cases and a shortage of hospital beds
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
| Credit: Elaine Thompson-Pool/Getty Images

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced on Tuesday a new statewide mandate requiring all people to wear face masks in public amid a surge of new novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections.

Washington is one of more than 20 states currently seeing a rise in cases, and at least one county in Washington has run out of hospital beds.

Inslee said during a news conference that the rule, which goes into effect Friday, requires masks in indoor settings, as well as outdoor settings if social distance rules cannot be maintained.

Those who violate the new mandate will face a misdemeanor charge, the governor said.

"I think of these face coverings, in some sense, as a statement," Inslee said. "It's a statement that when you wear it, it means you care about people, because it means you want to reduce the risk that you are going to infect another person."

Washington joins Connecticut, California, Delaware, New York and Illinois in requiring residents to wear masks in public.

On Friday, Yakima Health District said in a press release that the uptick in coronavirus cases has overwhelmed its hospitals. Virginia Mason Memorial, located in Yakima County, southeast of Seattle, "had no intensive care or non-intensive care beds available."

Covid hotspot map
Credit: Martin Schwartz/PEOPLE

"There were multiple patients waiting for hospital bed space overnight," the district added. "This was after at least 17 patients had already been transferred out of the county. Several individuals are still currently waiting for available bed space."

Yakima County is now considered the epicenter of COVID-19 cases in Washington state.

"The health care system, because of COVID-19 infections, is so stressed, that there is no room at the hospital in Yakima County. There are no rooms available to people for this treatment in Yakima County," Inslee said during his news conference. "That means that patients are having to be shipped by ambulance outside of Yakima County to Seattle and other places. ... We do not want to see that condition spread across the state of Washington."

Washington State Covid
Credit: Karen Ducey/Getty

Inslee said he's also planning to sign a proclamation that requires businesses in Yakima County to enforce the face covering rule. If businesses don't comply, they will not be allowed to continue their operations.

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