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Washington’s ‘No Mask, No Service’ Rule Goes Into Effect Tuesday

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Restaurants in Seattle will be required to refuse service to those who don’t wear face coverings

A masked customer at Skal Beer Hall orders at the bar
In June, Skal Beer Hall opened for dine-in services with masks optional; now they are a requirement.
Suzi Pratt

Gov. Jay Insee recently announced a new measure that takes the statewide face covering mandate up a notch. Starting Tuesday, businesses — including restaurants — will be required to refuse service to those who don’t wear a mask. Failure to comply could result in a fine or a loss of business license.

The measure is meant to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, as cases continue to spike in many areas across Washington, including King County, where there were 126 new cases reported Monday. Right now, there’s already a mandate that people must wear face coverings in public indoors, as well as outdoors if six feet of social distancing can’t be maintained. But this new rule adds another level of restriction intended to encourage more compliance. Inslee had issued a similar mandate for businesses in Yakima County.

One exception to keeping a face mask on would be when actively eating and drinking inside a restaurant. But the masks would need to be worn in most other situations, such as walking around common areas, going to the bathroom, and interacting with staff.

Some chefs and owners are all for the new rule. “I think the law is great,” says David Nichols of Eight Row, adding that, in general, customers have been “very receptive to wearing masks while dining.”

“I love the new requirements,” says restaurateur Miki Sodos of Bang Bang Cafe, Bang Bang Kitchen, and Cafe Pettirosso (which are all open for to-go orders, but not dine-in services yet). “We have installed a ‘no mask, no service’ rule last week and we haven’t had anything more than one grumbling customer that left. We also have disposable masks at the front for people that don’t have one, and almost always people are grateful. It takes the burden off our shoulders and places it on the government, which is where is it should be.”

“It’s a whole new world for sure,” says Rachel Yang, chef and co-owner of acclaimed Fremont restaurants Joule and Revel. On the first weekend of the original mask mandate, Yang says most of the customers were wearing masks, and the staff gave face coverings out to those who didn’t bring their own. “We asked them to wear when they are not at their table. Overall, everyone knows and understands the new reality.”

Others are a little wary of trying to keep up with all the new regulations. Trinh Nguyen, co-owner of Bainbridge Island Vietnamese restaurant Ba Sa (who also helps run her family’s Poulsbo restaurant, Pho T&N) says she and her staff have been enforcing the mask mandate from the very beginning, “and it hasn’t been an issue.” Still, there are complications that come with any new law. “When we are forced to enforce the mask rules, it puts a lot of stress on our staff and operation,” says Nguyen. “Our main job is to cook and host, not to police whether or not patrons are wearing masks. We try to remind ourselves that there will be many changes to come until a vaccine is found. Until then, it won’t be the same to run a restaurant during this time.”

Meanwhile, another tweak to the state’s “Safe Start” reopening plan involves bars. Previously, guidelines in phase three allowed for bar seating to open up at 25 percent capacity — but Inslee has now nixed that notion. Establishments that open in phase three won’t be able to serve patrons at the bar, nor can they allow people to congregate near the bar. Bars, breweries, and wine taprooms in Seattle, if they have a full food menu, can still serve people at tables, as long as they stick to the 50 percent capacity rule.

Inslee also hit the pause button for the next two weeks when it comes to counties leaping ahead to the next phases. “I would love to tell you when this emergency will be over, but emergencies, by nature, work by their own rules, not ours,” the governor said. “Until there are widely available treatments to suppress the spread and the effects of COVID-19, this fight continues.”

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