A woman wearing a mask walks past in sign on the door at Pullman Foursquare Church on Thursday, June 25, 2020, in downtown Pullman, Wash. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that masks will be required in public starting on Friday to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Geoff Crimmins/The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP)

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The rate of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 in Spokane has doubled in the past week, and the state's second-largest city is “”on the edge of a cliff,'' Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.

“”Something has to change to rescue people and the economy,'' Inslee said after visiting with civic leaders on the Spokane campus of Washington State University.

Inslee's visit drew a small crowd of protesters against his administration's proclamation earlier this week requiring people to wear masks when in public. Inslee, who wore a mask during his press conference, said the way to battle the spread of the coronavirus is simple.

“”You've just got to wear a little cloth on your face,'' Inslee said.

But a few dozen people demonstrated outside the building, carrying signs that said “”Inslee Must Go,'' and “”Freedom is the cure.'' Some waved flags bearing the name of President Trump.

“”I will not wear a mask,''' said Janice Tollett of Airway Heights. “”I'll go to jail, pay the fine. I just want our country back.''

Tollett said the governor should just “”open everything up and let the chips fall where they may.''

However, Inslee said he expected most Washington residents to wear masks when appropriate, especially when shopping.

“”It is fair to protect the people who are serving you,'' Inslee said.

While some law enforcement officers have said they will not write tickets for failure to wear a mask, Inslee said he doubted tickets would be widely issued.

“”We think people will follow this,'' Inslee said.

The governor said the most important metrics he looks at regularly when evaluating the state's response to the virus are the rate of new hospitalizations in a county, and the rate at which infected people are infecting others, known as the “”R-naught.''

Dr. Dan Getz, an emergency room doctor at Spokane's Sacred Heart Medical Center, the state's second-largest hospital, said the facility actually tripled its number of COVID-19 patients in the past week, and people continued to be admitted.

“”It could quickly overrun our hospital system,'''Getz said.

“”Wear the mask,'' he added.

Spokane County is currently in Phase II of the state's scale of infection, meaning many businesses are open. The county as of Wednesday had 1,069 cases of COVID-19, with 38 deaths.

That's far lower than the infection rates in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties, which are still in Stage I lockdown, but Inslee said the trend in Spokane was disturbing.

The order making masks mandatory takes effect Friday. A violation is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a maximum fine of $1,000.

Statewide, more than 30,000 people have tested positive for the virus and at least 1,300 have died. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.