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Masks up, Seattle

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says starting Monday, be prepared to wear a cloth face covering in indoor and outdoor public spaces.

This is an edited transcript of the conversation between Bill Radke and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Thursday, May 14, 2020.

Where do I have to wear a facial covering starting Monday?

You should use them in basically any public place that you can't keep social distancing. So if you're going into the grocery, pharmacy, small business, farmers' market, any of those places, whether you're an employee or a customer, you should be wearing a mask or face covering.

That's inside and outside? Not all outside places, but crowded parks?

If you can't socially distance, we do recommend that you wear them in crowded parks.

We've learned a lot about this virus just in two months. At the very beginning, it was thought that only people who were symptomatic, who were already showing signs of the virus could spread the virus. We now know that's not true. And in fact, some of the super spreaders are people who spread the virus before they're showing or even know they have any symptoms.

And so masks help us in two ways. One, they keep those people from spreading the virus, unknowingly. And two, they do provide some protection to the people wearing the mask. But I really want to emphasize: this does not do away with the necessity to social distance. We still have to keep our distance we still have to wash our hands and keep good hygiene. And still don't touch your face. When you put that mask on and off, be really careful that you're not fidgeting around your face. Wash your hands before you put it on and wash your hands before you take it off. All of these things are going to add up to make us all more safe against this virus.

I'm sure people have come up to you Mayor and cited studies that say well, outdoors, it's less dangerous than we thought.

The more we learn about this virus, the more we're learning it's more dangerous than we thought in almost every setting. We now learn that children are subject to some complications that are very unusual that are almost like Kawasaki disease. We're seeing people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s suffering from blood clots and strokes. So we learn more about this virus every day and every day we learn it's even more dangerous than we thought. So everything we can do to break the transmission of this virus is a positive thing.

If I'm on a bus with my mask and somebody sits down without a mask, how should I handle that?

We've got to make ourselves remember that we are in a time where everyone is on edge. And the last thing we want to be doing is creating more conflicts. I think the bus drivers, we're going to try to be able to remind people to get off and on public transit. As we get more masks available, we're going to be able to try to provide them to the public. King County and the City of Seattle will be giving out about 150,000 masks to communities that wouldn't otherwise have access. So I really urge people, don't go to enforcement. Don't go you know, browbeating each other. Let's all be in this together and find a way forward.

Could I throw you under the bus and kind of use your name and be like, you know, I'm with you, but you know, Mayor Durkan...

Like if Jenny Durkan were here, she's like, put your mask on! Cover your face!

You do not want Jenny Durkan walking on this bus on the next stop.

You do not want Jenny Durkan walking on this bus, sitting down by you. But you do! Because she'd be cheerful and say we're all in this together. We're gonna get through it.

What about the non-enforcement? I know the King County Executive told us on Tuesday, the county won't enforce the mask, said it's not practical. What about in Seattle where it's a smaller area, it's denser and maybe there's less mask resistance than there is countywide?

I find it ironic because I think Seattle is a place that has always been pretty fiercely independent and is always skeptical of the need of heavy handed enforcement. But every time we tell the public what they need, one of the first questions is, are the police going to enforce this? How are you going to enforce this? And what I've seen is, we enforce it by being smart.

The people of Seattle, when I go places now, the vast majority of people even before we put this in place were wearing masks in their grocery stores or pharmacies, when they were in close proximity. And so I'm very thankful to be the mayor of a city that really embraces science and the public health guidance, and not in a place like we heard right before this, you know, in Michigan where there's armed revolution against public science and public health guidance.

Caller Kevin: Why would the city equivocate on requiring masks indoors talking about enforcement, but require masks outdoors in public parks where risk is minimal, and people can control their time in the park along with their personal spacing to manage exposure and risk?

Everyone is required to wear a mask when they're indoors in a public place, both the workers and the customers. And as we open up the economy, you're going to see guidance for all sorts of workplaces where we're going to expect that people who can't socially distance wear face coverings.

But are businesses enforcing that?

They will be enforcing it. Absolutely.

The city will require businesses to enforce it and maybe cite businesses that aren't enforcing it?

I really think that we have not seen a broad scale ignoring of either the recommendations or the requirements on any step of the way here. We've seen some people who ignore it. For example, it was a really hot weekend, and we saw particularly young people gathering in ways that wasn't smart and was contrary to the public health guidance during this pandemic. But for the most part, what I've seen is people really trying to do what's right. And I expect that to continue.

But we're going to be working as we open up businesses to give employers the resources they need, the employees the resource they need. For example, the city of Seattle is a very large employer. We have ordered a number of cloth face coverings.

Again, I want to urge people, when you hear masks, don't go out and buy the N95 mask or the surgical mask. We still need those for healthcare workers and our first responders. There's all sorts of cloth face coverings. We posted to our website a way you can do it yourself. I did that originally; It didn't turn out so well so now I have one that I got off Etsy. A couple of them. We've got to be in this together and face coverings are going to give us some protection.

The city website will tell folks where they could get the city provided mask I assume.

Yes.

Caller Peter: A green card holder apply upon applying for citizenship is asked a number of questions. One of them is have you ever done an illegal act for which you were never charged. Let's leave the ridiculous nature of this question for another topic, says Peter. But if you went to the grocery store after Monday and did not cover your face, would you have to answer this written question in the affirmative? Would you jeopardize your chances of becoming a citizen? Say somebody took a picture of you in the store not wearing the mask and posted it on social media. Might this be used to show that you lied on a citizenship form if you did not answer this question in the affirmative?

Short answer: No.

Caller James in Pioneer Square: I've been to CVS. Walgreens. Bartells. None of them are selling masks. How am I supposed to wear a mask if I can't get one?

There's a number of outlets. The county and the city are distributing cloth face coverings for those people that don't have access and we're doing it through a bunch of community based organizations. We're also trying to get a number of those to shelters and congregate living facilities, whether that's for homeless people or for senior citizens.

There's also ways you can use just a T shirt or a bandana. It doesn't have to be a fancy mask that you go buy somewhere else. In fact, there's a whole range of ways you can do it. And if you don't have access to the website, we posted a video on how you could create your own face covering using a T shirt or a bandana and the like. The most important thing you got to know is, you just gotta cover your nose in your mouth.

Malik in W. Seattle: Why is it taking so long for SDOT agree to allow the city's largest employers like Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft, to use their shuttles across the lower bridge? Let's get that agreed to and move on. A longer question: With the closure of West Seattle bridge and impending traffic nightmare, what would you recommend residents not just West Seattle residents do, to encourage our regional governments to act and collaborate decisively.

First, we've got a range of people who want access to that lower bridge. We have to at this juncture, keep it available for transit, for first responders and we're looking at other ways that if we need to be moving people. But the load that that bridge can take is also limited. And the last thing we can afford is for number one, that bridge to be congested, so our first responders can't get through, or second for the bridge to fail. So we'll continue to look at if there's other ways we can move more people to and from West Seattle, not just across the lower bridge, but we're looking at all the other mobility together.

Second, you are absolutely right. We have got to be speaking as a region about this incredibly important infrastructure, the West Seattle bridge and getting people in and out of West Seattle bridge. It was the most traveled bridge in all of Seattle. It's over 100,000 people a day going to and from West Seattle over that bridge. I've spoken to our federal delegation, to the port, to the state legislators, to the governor. We have got to speak as a region and so we'll find ways for you to have your voice weigh in because we know that for example, if Sound Transit's going to build another bridge there, and it turns out we need another bridge, we ought to join forces, build one bridge, do it cheaper, do it quicker. That's my goal as your mayor.

Gary in Lake City Way: I was a daily visitor to Carkeek park for the last 25 years. And now all the city parks are closed and they have 217 acres waiting for walking like I would do. And I'm wondering when are you going to open up the city parks again?

We closed those parks only for one weekend, on a weekend where we've seen extreme crowding, but all the parks are open. Some of the larger parks like Golden Gardens and Alkai we close after 8pm because that is when we saw a number of people gathering and didn't need to be there. So we want you to get out, enjoy the parks. Keep moving.

Carkeek, Magnuson Seward Park, West Seattle, but do please keep moving. You know, we saw last hot weekend that there was a lot of people that brought their beach blankets and their towels and spent the day having their picnics and their barbecues and it became pretty crowded. I get it. I grew up in Seattle and that hot hot weather is what we wait all winter for. But we need people to get moving. So those parks are open. We'll keep them open as long as people don't get crowded and start disobeying and ignoring the public health guidance.

Gene in Green Lake: I'm a photographer and I've been shooting and documenting the last couple months of our response to the virus. I have photo after photo and experience after experience, in which I've never seen a Seattle cop wear a face mask. Why are the police not wearing face masks?

Police are not exempt and Chief Best and I have talked about this. We're working with the troops to make sure that anytime that they can't socially distance they do wear face coverings. If they're called to a call out where it is recommended that there be PPE, they are donning their PPE just like fire is. I know, having bicycled myself with a mask on, it's not the most comfortable thing, but we really do want our police and fire setting the best example. And I know that the police officers have been pretty careful when they're in and around the public and having to respond to situations, that they do mask up. But we'll look into that. I appreciate the call.

Twitter announced recently it's allowing work from home indefinitely. Amazon's doing that until early October. The president of the Downtown Seattle Association estimated that nearly half of downtown Seattle's 330,000 jobs are being done remotely. That's a lot of empty offices downtown. Could that be a permanent feature? And would that mean lower residential and commercial rents? What do you expect?

It's one of the things that keeps me up now is, not just how do we get through this pandemic and how do we reopen business, but how do we recover and rebuild as a city? And Seattle is going to be changed forever.

I think that large businesses and small businesses have found that they operate very differently than they did before the pandemic. You see hundreds of thousands of people who used to work downtown, no longer do. Zillow, Amazon, all those companies have let people know that they're probably gonna be commuting well into the fall, if not through the end of the year. If there aren't those workers downtown, there's no customers for those small businesses. If Nordstrom doesn't reopen, the customers don't come downtown.

Our urban environment is going to be redefined coming out of this pandemic, and it's going to require us really coming together and envisioning what the new city looks like, and how it operates. You know, just this week, the mayor of Paris announced her plan to have what she calls a 10 minute city. And that means wherever you live, within 10 minutes of a walk or bike from where you live, you can get whatever you need. And you know, obviously Paris is already set up that way, with its arrondissements, and its small green grocers and cafes. But we have to make sure that as we come out of this, we're really building a vibrant downtown and vibrant communities and ones that are more just and more equitable.

Are you talking about more central planning than we're used to to? Change what goes where in the city?

We have to. I mean, if you look now, even in New York City, the three largest banks announced that they will not be returning a good portion of their employees to their downtown space ever. The commercial real estate business will be upended after this. You see even Starbucks saying that they want to renegotiate leases and are rethinking their footprints. And so as that happens, we're going to have to rethink what is our urban environment? How do we make sure that people want to live in downtown Seattle and work in downtown Seattle?

You talked about maybe a kind of a central planning -- we've got to put these amenities here; we can't just let it go to the market because we're risking an implosion in so many kinds of businesses. Is there any other policy that you're thinking of? Do you expect, on the flip side, for rents to go down in the city?

I think you will start to see both the cost of housing and cost of rent decrease in every city across America. Both as a result of how people are working and commuting but also just as a reflection of the economic reality. You can't have double digit unemployment and sustain the level of economy that we had before this pandemic. I mean, think about it, Bill, we had less than 3% unemployment two months ago and now we're in double digits.

Those businesses are already reconsidering whether they can reopen or they want to reopen. Some restaurants say they don't want there to be a 50% capacity, because they can't make money by having the same floor space, the same labor costs. They'd rather just continue to have takeout.

This is going to roil every part of our business community and our society -- how people communicate, how they come together. And then lay over the top of that we're very likely to see outbreaks of this virus ebb and flow across cities across America and perhaps here in Seattle/King County and Washington state. That itself is going to have impacts.

Until we have a vaccine, this virus is in the driver's seat. And all we can do as a city is try to take mitigation to stop the spread. But then when we come out of this, we're redefined as a society. This has accelerated so much that was happening before the pandemic. It's laid bare the inequities we had in our economy. It's laid bare the inequities in our healthcare system. Our communities of color have suffered disproportionately the health impacts and the economic impacts. We've got to fix that coming out of this.