Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday that she will require Oregonians to wear face masks everywhere in the state — not just a handful of select counties — to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Brown said her new order takes effect Wednesday, and requires people in Oregon to don a mask whenever they’re in a public indoor space, such as grocery stores, gyms and shopping malls.
The governor hinted that the new statewide requirement could be a last-ditch measure.
“I do not want to have to close down businesses again like other states are now doing,” she said in a news release. “If you want your local shops and restaurants to stay open, then wear a face covering when out in public.”
Originally, Brown had been hesitant to require Oregonians to cover their mouths and noses since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shifted course April 3 and said cloth face coverings are helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and should be worn. Within days, Brown recommended that the state’s residents wear face coverings, but repeatedly declined to require them — saying she had confidence that Oregonians would do the right thing.
Then last Wednesday, after it became clear that coronavirus cases in Oregon have been surging for the past month, Brown began requiring masks in seven counties. Those counties were Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Marion, Polk, Hood River and Lincoln. They make up about 55 percent of the state’s population.
Brown later said she was adding an eighth, Clatsop County. At the time, Brown and officials with the Oregon Health Authority didn’t say specifically why they weren’t mandating masks across the entire state.
But Monday’s announcement means that two days from now, no corner of the state will be exempt.
“From the beginning of the reopening process, I have said that reopening comes with the risk of seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases beyond our health systems’ capacity to test, trace, and isolate them,” Brown said in a news release Monday. “Over the last month, we have seen the disease spread at an alarming rate in both urban and rural counties. The upcoming July 4th holiday weekend is a critical point for Oregon in this pandemic, and we can all make a difference.”
Brown said she must take further action, based on modeling from the Oregon Health Authority released last Friday that warns residents should prepare to see “exponential growth” in coronavirus infections in the next three weeks — with roughly 900 to 5,000 new daily infections possible under moderate to pessimistic models.
The governor said that could lead our hospitals to be “overwhelmed” by COVID-19 within weeks.
”The choices every single one of us make in the coming days matter,” Brown said.
When Brown made her previous announcements about requiring masks in select counties, the governor carved out exceptions — saying children younger than 12 and people with medical conditions who would be endangered by wearing a mask didn’t have to wear one. Brown didn’t specify in a news release Monday whether her expanded requirement still would exempt these groups.
Even with her announcement Monday, Brown has not gone as far as the governors of some other states, including Washington and California. Both of those governors require masks to be worn in indoor public spaces as well as outdoors when people can’t stay at least 6 feet from others. Washington’s Jay Inslee says children over age 5 must wear face coverings, while California’s Gavin Newsom says children over age 2 must do so.
According to the all-volunteer organization Masks4All, more than 100 countries across the globe require masks. In the U.S., at least 18 states do for every county within their borders.
— Aimee Green
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