As of Wednesday, more than half of Oregon’s population will be required to wear masks in closed public spaces.
Gov. Kate Brown’s new rule affects Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Marion, Polk, Hood River and Lincoln counties, some of the state’s most populous counties and some most affected by the COVID-19 outbreaks.
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The mandate to wear masks comes as coronavirus cases in the state are on the rise and counties continue to open more and more aspects of daily life. The specter of a tidal wave of the virus and another economic shutdown looms over the state.
Can masks help stop the tide?
“There is still no vaccine, there is no reliable treatment for this virus,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County Health Officer, “so prevention will continue to be the key for the next few months.”
Vines and other health officials think that masks are a key component of prevention as people expand their spheres of operation and the economy reopens.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when little was known about the disease and officials were concerned about shortages of supplies for health workers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others actively discouraged the use of masks.
Now that thought has drastically changed.
“Masks are recommended in situations where you meet people outside of your immediate home,” Dr. Paul Cieslak, senior health advisor for the Oregon Health Authority, told The Oregonian / OregonLive in May, “Because using them, you can reduce the likelihood of transmitting COVID-19 by taking it by surprise.”
Fabric face liners and surgical masks are primarily intended to help others. Studies show that facial covers can contain airborne particles created when people talk, sing, sneeze, and cough.
Anecdotally, the skins seem to be working too. In Missouri, two stylists tested positive for the virus after working with 140 clients and six coworkers. The stylists and clients wore masks and none of the exposed people got sick.
In Oregon, state officials have seen no evidence that protests that have drawn crowds across the state for nearly a month have contributed to an increase in COVID-19 cases.
The photos show most of the protesters covering their faces night after night.
The CDC now recognizes that COVID-19 can be spread by people who do not show symptoms of the disease.
So wearing a mask, officials say, is one way to protect your community, because you can be a bearer and not know it.
For masks to be truly effective, Oregonians will need to be vigilant and cover their faces whenever they interact with people outside of their immediate family group.
As cases increase in the state, some cases stem from untracked community outreach, but many, officials say, stem from social groups.
“It may be awkward or awkward to wear face shields or masks as you are connecting socially with friends,” said Kim Toevs, director of communicable diseases for Multnomah County, “but now would be a good time to do it, not just when you do.” in a grocery store. “
Some people in the community are angered by the mask requirement, arguing that it interferes with their personal rights.
“It is safe to say that we have been receiving a wide range of comments from Oregon residents on negative and positive face covers,” said Charles Boyle, spokesman for Governor Brown.
While many emails to The Oregonian have voiced their support for the governor’s rule, others have called it illegal, an impact on cruel and personal freedom for disabled people and those who have had traumatic experiences related to nausea.
In reality, it is unlikely that someone will be punished for not wearing a mask. Enforcement of the rule will vary by county, but most efforts will focus on education.
In Multnomah County, the director of public health, Rachael Banks, said the county “strongly encourages” residents who can fulfill the governor’s mandate.
But, Banks said, “some people shouldn’t cover their faces or feel safe doing it.”
“There is also a legitimate security concern among some of our communities of color related to the use of facial covering,” said Banks. “Racist reactions to blacks, indigenous people, and people of color who wear face covers are a reality. The County will not act in a way that could cause excessive vigilance or embarrass people. “
Banks said for those reasons, “Multnomah County will not enforce the state’s face coverage mandate.”
Instead, he said, the county is working to provide masks to those most at risk.
Clackamas County Public Health Director Philip Mason-Joyner had a similar message.
“Using a face covering reduces the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” he said. “However, we must bear in mind that not everyone can cover their faces due to a disability with which they could be living. It is important that we do not stigmatize people who cannot wear masks. “
That said, Clackamas County will investigate the breach, Mason-Joyner said, first focusing on education and only taking legal action as a “last resort.”
People with complaints in Clackamas County can send an email to [email protected]
In Washington County, people with concerns about a business can email the health department’s compliance arm at [email protected] and the health department “will provide education and information for help them comply with the governor’s order. “
What officials say they hope is that people will recognize the benefits of wearing masks and that wearing one outside of your immediate family when you approach six feet from other people becomes commonplace.
“Covering your nose and mouth is a relatively low burden for the person who has to do it,” said Vines.
He noted that there were exceptions: Young children and people with conditions that make it difficult to breathe should not wear masks.
But to others, he said, “This is a basic courtesy to other people,” such as not coughing in your hand and then shaking someone’s hand.
“My hope is that we get the feeling that wearing a face mask is something you do for others,” said Vines, “and in fact, one that is well done actually helps protect you.”
– Lizzy Acker
503-221-8052, [email protected], @lizzzyacker
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