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 against surging numbers of new cases and hospitalized patients over the past month in Oregon. Repeatedly in recent weeks, Oregon has broken records for the number of new cases.
“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.”
Brown didn’t make clear Monday if she’d continue to exempt children younger than 12 and people with medical conditions who would be endangered by wearing a mask, as she had in her earlier order.
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.
For months, Brown had refrained from ordering Oregonians to cover their mouths and noses. When 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, Brown recommended that the state’s residents wear face coverings. But she repeatedly declined to require them — saying she had confidence that Oregonians would do the right thing.
Then last Wednesday, Brown began requiring masks in seven of the state’s 36 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. “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.
She said residents must do their part to stop another spike in cases from the long holiday weekend ahead.
“Please keep your Fourth of July celebrations small and local,” the governor said. “We saw a lot of new COVD-19 cases following the Memorial Day holiday. Another spike in cases after the upcoming holiday weekend could put Oregon in a dangerous position.”
The decision to require people across Oregon to wear masks drew immediate praise from the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.
“With cases on the rise rapidly across the state, it is now more important than ever to take this step to protect our loved ones, our neighbors, and our communities,” said Becky Hultberg, the organization’s president and CEO. “Further, if we are to coexist alongside the disease, wide adoption of public face coverings is an essential factor in keeping our businesses and public spaces open.”
Requirements to wear masks — whether they come from government or individual businesses — has infuriated a portion of the American public, who believe it infringes on their individual rights.
But scientists say the measures are necessary to protect society as a whole during an unprecedented and out-of-control pandemic.
Studies say masks have shown dramatic positive effects. If 80% of a “closed population” wore masks, infections would plunge to about 8%, compared to populations where everyone shunned masks. That’s according to a group of researchers from the University of California Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
It’s unclear how Brown’s new mandate will be enforced — whether she’ll solely focus on compelling businesses to require face coverings, or if individuals might be penalized, too. The governor said Oregon Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) will be a lead enforcer at businesses, but “state and local agencies” would assist.
— Aimee Green; firstname.lastname@example.org; @o_aimee