Washington state sheriff tells residents to not be 'sheep' over statewide coronavirus mask mandate

A sheriff in southwest Washington state this week told residents to not be "sheep" over Gov. Jay Inslee’s new statewide order requiring masks in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“In case you guys didn’t hear, Gov. Inslee in his infinite wisdom has decided after over a hundred and some odd days that we should all wear face masks inside and out. Here’s what I say: Don’t be a sheep,” Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza said to a cheering, unmasked crowd that had gathered in a church parking lot in Napavine, Wash., Tuesday. Snaza's comments came just hours after Inslee issued the order amid rising virus numbers.

Snaza said in an interview with KUOW-FM in Seattle that he’s frustrated because “we continue to listen to the governor’s requests without asking questions, without saying: ‘Well wait a minute, there’s the other side to this’ and, in particular, wearing the mask. Yet we’re telling people now to wear it and if you don’t wear it, we’re going to cite you for that."

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He said he’s not convinced masks help prevent the spread of the virus.

Inslee said he was “disappointed” with Snaza in a news conference.

“I think we have to be disappointed in any law enforcement officer who would encourage illegal behavior,” Inslee said. He added wearing a mask “is about demonstrating our respect and care for the other people around us.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks next to a video display showing images of people wearing masks during a news conference, Tuesday, June 23, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Inslee announced Tuesday that Washington state will require people to wear facial coverings in most indoor and outdoor public settings, under a statewide public health order in response to ongoing COVID-19 related health concerns. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks next to a video display showing images of people wearing masks during a news conference, Tuesday, June 23, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Inslee announced Tuesday that Washington state will require people to wear facial coverings in most indoor and outdoor public settings, under a statewide public health order in response to ongoing COVID-19 related health concerns. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

On Wednesday, Snaza clarified that he wasn’t “outwardly saying I want you to violate the orders.” He noted he has a mask and his department requires them inside the office and when they enter homes.

He said he wants to focus on educating the public about the virus instead of giving out tickets.

Inslee called Snaza’s clarification “very helpful," KUOW reported.

California and Nevada have also mandated wearing masks in public statewide as cases have spiked amid business reopenings this month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended wearing masks since April, adding it’s particularly helpful for asymptomatic people to keep from spreading the virus to others.

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Other law enforcement agencies in the state issued statements this week indicating the agencies would not be enforcing the mandate, KUOW reported.