ONCE ALL BEARS ARE MASKED, WILL THE REST OF US FOLLOW? The County’s Historical Museum is closed, but people are trudging up North Fourth Street to see this family of masked wooden bears in front of Stuart Hutt’s house. Their masking is for our protection, as is yours for two-leggeds you encounter, in the woods or on the street. Rumor has it the bears will stay masked until widespread testing proves to them they can walk among us safely. – Photo by Ken Stern

ONCE ALL BEARS ARE MASKED, WILL THE REST OF US FOLLOW? The County’s Historical Museum is closed, but people are trudging up North Fourth Street to see this family of masked wooden bears in front of Stuart Hutt’s house. Their masking is for our protection, as is yours for two-leggeds you encounter, in the woods or on the street. Rumor has it the bears will stay masked until widespread testing proves to them they can walk among us safely. – Photo by Ken Stern

The statewide Stay Home, Stay Safe mandate in response to the coronavirus has spawned an array of strategies intended to strike a balance between public health and economic concerns.

In La Conner, signage and designated customer waiting spaces have been employed – to mixed reviews – to encourage social distancing in the business district.

Elsewhere in the region, which has been in shutdown mode since March, emergency orders requiring the wearing of masks have been issued by communities similar in size and makeup to La Conner.

Advocates say those remedies lock down mouths and noses, potential sources of COVID-19.

During a wide-ranging discussion part of last week’s La Conner Town Council meeting, Council member Mary Wohleb noted that Langley on south Whidbey Island had adopted an emergency order requiring masks be worn in its core business area.

Friday, a similar order was issued for San Juan County, which includes Friday Harbor.

On that score, La Conner Mayor Ramon Hayes posed the quintessential question as tourists arrived here last weekend.

“How are they enforcing (it)?” he asked.

Turns out, mostly by business compliance. A Langley grocery store, for instance, has announced on social media that no one will be admitted inside without a mask.

In his proclamation, Langley Mayor Tim Callison defines the emergency measure as “My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.”

He said masks worn in Langley’s core business area will provide protection for those employed in essential workplaces.

Callison set the boundaries of the Langley order as Fourth Street to Seawall Park and Park Avenue to Wharf Street.

Dr. Frank James, of the San Juan County Public Health Office sought, and received – by a slim 2-1 vote – the county council’s endorsement of his emergency order.

James took into consideration San Juan County demographics. Over 40 per cent of its population is aged 60 or older.

He said the mask-wearing initiative is intended to prevent re-introduction of COVID-19 in San Juan County by tourists or visitors.

The council vote reflects a split on the mask issue in the islands. Proponents favor the “no mask, no service” approach in commercial zones. Opponents question whether present levels of sickness warrant mask requirements.

La Conner Chamber of Commerce Director Heather Carter said she has not heard of mask-wearing directives being planned for Skagit County.

“Nor has Ramon (Hayes) or the Town Council mentioned it for La Conner,” she said.

There is, however, some conjecture that mask-wearing requirements might become part of the state’s Phase 2 re-opening checklist.

“We like to have everyone take personal responsibility,” Hayes told Council members last week. “We need strategies that encourage people to comply.”

Monday Whatcom County’s Health Department issued a “Local Health Officer Directive that directs everyone to wear cloth face coverings while in any public indoor and outdoor locations.”