Yolanda Rodriguez, of Oregon State University Extension, poses for a photo in her mask on Wednesday, May 27 at a mask distribution event for farmworkers and the agricultural sector. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

As restrictions ease across Oregon, face masks continue to be a visual reminder of the coronavirus which has upended life. Confusion reigns over the value of a face covering and when people should wear one.

The issue spilled onto the national stage this week when Joe Biden chastised President Donald Trump for refusing to wear a mask in public on Memorial Day.

Salem Reporter consulted experts and guidance from state and federal officials on mask wearing. Here’s what we found.

What good is a mask?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.

Dr. Janine VanSant, medical director of infectious diseases at Santiam Hospital, said masks catch the droplets that are exhaled when you breathe, keeping them from contaminating surfaces.

“The long and the short of it is essentially that you want to wear masks around each other in order to protect yourself and also all your loved ones,” she said.

The CDC said cloth face coverings won’t stop people from breathing in respiratory droplets which carry the coronavirus, but it may keep the wearer from spreading the virus to others.

It also said cloth masks can prevent you from touching your face and can act as a visual reminder to practice social distancing.

When should I wear one?

The Oregon Health Authority recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain, like grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations.

OHA’s advises wearing masks “where it is likely that physical distancing of at least six feet from other individuals outside their family unit cannot be maintained.”

VanSant said people should carry a cloth mask on them, because you don’t know when you’re going to come in close contact with people outside your household.

Is there any place I’m required to wear one?

Oregon guidance requires people to wear face coverings when riding buses or other public transit. Cherriots is requiring its riders to wear masks.

What about when I’m at work?

Masks are required for those who work at grocery stores, gyms, pharmacies, personal services, restaurants, bars. Retail stores and ride-sharing services are required to make employees wear face coverings, under OHA guidelines released May 15.

Marion County spokeswoman Jenna Wyatt said county employees aren’t required to wear masks, but they’re encouraged. She said the county has a social distancing policy in place so employees keep six feet apart.

City spokeswoman Kathy Ursprung said Salem is developing policies about mask wearing. Currently, the city is recommending but not requiring employees wear them.

Do I need to wear a mask at a restaurant?

Marion County health officer Dr. Christopher Cirino said masks probably aren’t necessary at a restaurant because those establishments are required to space patrons six feet apart.

Do I need to wear one out for a walk or on a hike?

Cirino said masks aren’t beneficial when you’re on a walk and maintaining distance from others.

VanSant said people should carry a mask on them in case they’re on a narrow trail and can’t maintain distance from passing hikers.

“Especially in Oregon in the summer, everybody is out hiking and coming within six feet of strangers,” she said.

VanSant said the risk of transmission is lower outdoors because of better ventilation, but you can’t always control how close people get to you.

What about while I’m driving?

No.

Audrey Comerford, of Oregon State University Extension, poses for a photo in her mask on Wednesday, May 27 at a mask distribution event for farmworkers and the agricultural sector. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Should I wear gloves?

Cirino also said gloves aren’t necessary, because once you touch something contaminated you need to wash the gloves just like you would your hands.

How often do I need to wash my mask?

The CDC recommends washing masks after each use.

How can I make a mask?

The CDC has guides on its website for how to make both sew and no-sew masks. 

Sgt. 1st Class Dugald Campbell, of the Oregon National Guard, poses for a photo in his mask on Wednesday, May 27 at a mask distribution event for farmworkers and the agricultural sector. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Have a tip or story idea? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.