Libby Anderson serves coffee at Archive with a mask and safe distancing on June 17, 2020. (Cathy Cheney/Salem Reporter)
Salem area residents next week have to wear face masks while venturing out for groceries or to browse at a bookstore or boutique.
Gov. Kate Brown and public health officials described how the new mandate would play out during a Thursday press conference.
People won’t have to wear a mask when going out to eat or drinking a cup of coffee, said Brown. Masks don’t have to be medical grade and can be made from a T-shirt or sewn at home, she explained.
Children under 12 also won’t be required to wear them. There will be exceptions for people with a medical condition where a mask would impede breathing.
Brown said called the new requirement, which goes into effect Wednesday, June 24, a “key part” of reopening Oregon’s economy after much of it was shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we adapt to living with this disease for the foreseeable future, face coverings need to become a part of our daily lives,” said Brown.
She said she doesn’t intend that people be arrested or ticketed for not wearing a face covering, Brown said that “this is a requirement and is enforceable.”
On March 23, Brown issued her stay-home order that put clamps on the economy and daily life. Those who flaunt could technically be charged with a misdemeanor crime.
But Brown said that she was “encouraging, cajoling, asking Oregonians to be kind and be smart and to protect their fellow Oregonians.”
The face mask mandate applies to Marion, Polk, Hood River, Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Lincoln counties. In the meantime, Brown said her office would be working with businesses and community groups to help people get access to free face coverings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of face coverings in public settings to prevent droplets containing the coronavirus from spreading when people cough, sneeze or talk. On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom enacted a similar requirement for the entire state.
Brown said that she picked seven counties for the new requirement because of their population density and the vulnerability of their communities. She said that she heard from medical experts and read that other countries that have ordered the use of masks have slowed transmissions of the virus.
“I think we have very good evidence from laboratory settings that different barriers can prevent the spread of disease,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state’s health officer.
Oregon has seen a higher-than-expected increase in people testing as infected with COVID-19.
But Brown couldn’t provide full details about her mask order, saying the state would release more detailed guidelines in coming days. (UPDATE: Guidelines were released June 19.)
Businesses will be allowed to refuse service to people not wearing masks, but it’s not clear if they will be required to bar customers. It’s also not clear what business employees should do when someone arrives who claims they have a medical condition that prevents them from using a face covering.
Brown hasn’t specified what settings people will be required to wear masks. Currently, employees at grocery stores, gyms, pharmacies, restaurants and other businesses are required to wear masks. Brown said that her new rules would apply to customers and visitors of those businesses.
On Wednesday, Brown announced that Marion and Polk counties could enter the second phase of the reopening plan, allowing bars to stay open later and swimming pools and arcades to open.
Brown’s announcement followed recent spikes in new infections. But she said that the sources of new infections are largely coming from workplaces, congregant care, social gatherings and community spread.
“What that tells us is that the businesses that are open, the restaurants and the hair salons, are doing a really good job of abiding by safety precautions and health measures,” said Brown.
In recent weeks, large protests have erupted in cities across Oregon and the U.S. in response to police brutality, raising the specter of dramatic spread of the virus as demonstrators gather shoulder to shoulder. Sidelinger said that the Oregon Health Authority is encouraging local public health authorities to ask about participation in large demonstrations when they are investigating cases of those infected with the virus.
“We don't have any definitive evidence of spread in those protests, because we haven't seen more than a couple of cases overall across these protests,” he said.
Despite better supplies of personal protective equipment, more contact tracers and testing, Brown said that the next few weeks would be difficult as the state continues reopening. She said she would revert to tighter restrictions in counties where the health care system was at risk of being overwhelmed.
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Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.