KENT, Wash. — As King County waits to see if public health leaders will implement stricter rules regarding face masks, some small business owners say they are prepared for any potential changes.
Many stores in downtown Kent are still requiring masks to be worn indoors, regardless of someone's vaccination status. However, some customers aren't fans of the precautionary measures.
"A couple people get testy about it," said Wayne Curran, owner of Page Turner Books. "But I ask them to be testy outside."
Curran said he asks every customer to put their mask on before stepping inside the store. "We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. It could come back. It could go away, so until it’s definitely gone, it’s just a good idea to keep it in place," said Curran.
Retro Emporium is another store requiring masks to be worn indoors. Owner Anne Smith told KING 5, "We feel with everything that’s gone on in the last year, obviously, it’s best to protect us and protect our customers."
Smith said her customers sometimes need reminding, even though signage is posted on her front door.
"If people come in without the mask, I've just been like, 'Hey, I've got the mask. Will you please wear it when you're in here?'" explained Smith.
Last Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new mask guidance allowing those who are fully vaccinated to go without a mask indoors and out. However, there's a growing concern that the relaxed approach may do more harm than good.
"I do think there was a problem with the way this guidance was rolled out by the CDC," said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Duchin said he believes the CDC’s decision to rollback the mask guidance was a little premature.
"In order to get to that place safely, we need to have low enough levels of COVID-19 transmission in the community and high enough levels of vaccination coverage," said Duchin.
Duchin said he thinks King County may need to bypass the CDC mask recommendations and adopt a stronger mask wearing mandate to help bring the rate of COVID-19 transmission down.
"We were doing great masking," said Duchin. "We can easily go another month or six weeks of masking in order to get our rates down as low as possible, reduce the risk and indoor spaces and everywhere as low as possible."
Tom Geiger, a spokesperson for the union representing grocery store workers in the Puget Sound, hopes King County does in fact impose its own mask mandate.
"The mask was one filter, if you will, one way of having improved safety in the store," said Geiger, special projects director of UFCW 21.
"In some cases and in some areas, a majority of people still haven't been vaccinated," he said. "It's a good idea to keep wearing masks for the time being and then let's see how the summer folds out."
However, Geiger also said grocery store workers are worried about addressing mask confusion and further confrontations with customers if different guidelines are coming from different departments.
"That's not the role of a grocery store worker. [It's] not to police the situation," he said. "Certainly not asking for someone to what, show evidence that they've been vaccinated?"
Public Health – Seattle & King County said that any possible changes to the mask guidelines could be announced later this week.