An order from Gov. Kate Brown for residents of Lincoln County and six other jurisdictions to wear face coverings in indoor public places, in effect as of Wednesday, will be largely left to businesses to uphold.
Brown announced last week that, effective June 24, customers of grocery stores, shops and other businesses, where employees were already required to wear face masks, would also have to cover their faces. The order is not effective statewide — it only applies in Clackamas, Hood River, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Washington and Lincoln counties, where the population density is higher or county officials specifically supported such a measure.
In a press briefing Wednesday, June 17, the governor stated clearly that the order was an enforceable requirement, but she also said “no, you won’t get arrested or get a ticket for not wearing a face covering,” leaving open the question of how, exactly, the requirement would be enforced.
Guidance on the order released the following day specified the indoor spaces to which it applies — “businesses,” defined as grocery stores; fitness-related organizations; pharmacies; public transit agencies and providers; personal services providers; restaurants, bars, breweries, brewpubs, wineries, tasting rooms and distilleries; retail stores, shopping centers and malls; and ride-sharing services.
“Customers and visitors of businesses are required to wear a mask, face shield, or face covering when at a business,” the guidance reads, exempting children under 12 and those with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent wearing one.
Additionally, the guidance says that businesses must impose the requirement on their customers, other than those listed as exempt or when they’re eating, drinking or “engaged in an activity that makes wearing a mask, face shield or face covering not feasible, such as strenuous physical exercise, singing or playing an instrument if at least 6 feet of distance is maintained from others.” With no state guidance on government enforcement of individuals’ compliance with the order, it’s left to businesses to make sure customers wear masks in their establishments. The order does not apply outdoors.
Chunhuei Chi, professor and coordinator at the International Health Program at Oregon State University, said recent studies indicated that wearing face coverings was more important than social distancing at preventing viral spread when indoors.
“The purpose of wearing the mask is not to prevent the virus itself,” which would pass through masks that are not specially rated, Chi said. But it does prevent spread of the droplets in which the virus travels, the health professor said, and in indoor spaces, especially without adequate ventilation, those droplets can become aerosolized and remain suspended in the air for hours.
“If one of those spaces has been visited by a confirmed patient, there is a potential that there is aerosol, and if there is an aerosol, the 6 feet is not enough, even 20 feet is not enough, and that makes the wearing of face masks all the more critical,” he said. Face coverings serve the purpose of reducing the volume of droplets that can then become aerosolized, Chi said, as well as providing some protection against breathing in those droplets.