Moscow and Pullman police have responded to reports of people violating face mask orders, but officials from both departments said residents have largely complied and no citations have been issued.
“The people that we have made contact (with) have been very polite and cooperative,” Moscow Police Department Capt. Tyson Berrett said.
In a seven-day period from July 22 to Tuesday, Moscow police responded to at least 10 reports of an individual or people not wearing masks and/or not social distancing, according to Moscow police’s daily activity log.
During the same week-long period, the Pullman Police Department responded to at least one of those types of calls, according to Pullman police’s log.
Washington’s order, which took effect June 26, requires residents, with some exceptions like those with certain medical conditions, to wear face coverings in public spaces, including indoors in most situations and outdoors when proper physical distancing cannot be maintained, according to the Washington State Department of Health’s website.
Violation of the order can lead to a misdemeanor offense with a maximum punishment of three months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Idaho does not have a statewide face mask mandate, but Moscow’s order, which took effect July 2, states face coverings must be worn in indoor and outdoor public settings where 6-foot social distancing cannot be maintained with nonhousehold members. Exceptions include individuals with a medical or mental health condition or disability that prevents wearing a face mask.
Those who violate the order are subject to a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum punishment of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Officials from Moscow and Pullman police departments said officers educate first.
Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins said enforcement is the “last resort.” He said the only time officers would engage in enforcement is if an individual knew he or she was violating the order and was “willful and deliberate” in refusing to comply.
Jenkins and Berrett said no physical confrontations have resulted while officers have responded to possible mask violation calls.
“That is the last thing that the police department wants,” Berrett said of physical confrontations.
After education, Jenkins said officers ask alleged violators to comply and give them a warning.
“So far that’s been effective for us,” Jenkins said. “We’ve been able to achieve compliance in that manner.”
Berrett said officers give a verbal warning the first time a face mask violation allegedly happens, a written warning could be issued if the person violates the order again and the individual could receive a citation the third time.
Jenkins and Berrett said officers from both departments have masks to distribute if someone does not have one.
The two men said officers often determine no violation took place after responding to a mask call. Berrett said sometimes officers find out people are not wearing masks but they are practicing social distancing or they are with individuals they live with. Both situations are allowable under the Moscow order.
Some people claim they have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, Berrett said.
“We’re not doctors, we’re not psychologists,” Berrett said. “We’re not going to challenge someone on a medical condition.”
Jenkins and Berrett said they have enough officers to respond to face mask violation reports.
Jenkins said those calls are lower priority than a domestic violence call, for example, which officers would respond to first.
Berrett said officers actively seeking mask violators is not feasible.
“We’re not going to stop every person that’s walking down the road next to someone and say, ‘Is that a household member?’” Berrett said.
Berrett estimated at least 95 percent of people downtown wear masks or have one in their hand to put on if they come within six feet of someone or enter a business.
“We appreciate everyone taking it seriously and doing what they can to stop the spread of the virus,” Berrett said.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.