ONTARIO — Gov. Kate Brown says starting Wednesday, people entering indoor public spaces anywhere in Oregon will be required to wear face coverings to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. She made the announcement Monday afternoon that the guidance applies to businesses and members of the public visiting indoor public spaces.
Requirements for face coverings already were mandated in eight counties due to rampant spread of the virus.
With the Fourth of July holiday just days away, Brown says it is a “critical point for Oregon” in the pandemic, as there was a spike in COVID-19 cases following Memorial Day.
“Please keep your Fourth of July celebrations small and local,” the governor urges. “Another spike in cases after the upcoming holiday weekend could put Oregon in a dangerous position.”
Besides Oregon OSHA, who is enforcing the mandate?
For businesses, Brown says Oregon OSHA will be taking the lead, along with other state and local agencies, in enforcing face covering requirements. She did not indicate what the other agencies were, but Sarah Poe, director for Malheur County Health Department says they have not heard anything directly from the state about what their role would be for enforcement.
“We are still taking an educational approach,” she says, however emphasized the department supports the face-covering mandate. “We’re promoting people wear face coverings — really, we always have.”
As far as businesses meeting requirements, Poe urges them to contact OSHA.
“We are following up on complaints that are coming in, just trying to sort of navigate those calls to the appropriate regulating entity,” she said. “But our approach has been education, that we are sharing the information. Oftentimes, people just don’t know what the guidance is.”
An Oregon OSHA official has previously told the newspaper that OSHA’s involvement in businesses relates to “potential worker exposure to COVID-19” in the workplace. OSHA citations and penalties can be possible for those businesses not protecting employees, including failing to implement physical distancing measures.
The face covering guidance for businesses only applies to “a limited set of businesses, all of which are public facing,” according to Aaron Corvin, public information officer for Oregon OSHA.
As for businesses that are shuttered to the public but still operating with employees on site, OSHA “would revert to expecting them to address the hazard in the same way as other employers, with appropriate social distancing, etc.,” he said. “Face coverings might be part of the package (and should certainly be considered), but they would not necessarily be required if, for example, a strict 6-foot minimum distance was able to be maintained.”
To provide an example, Poe pointed out steps being taken in her office, which include physical distancing. While sitting at one’s desk, a mask does not have to be worn, but those who leave their workspace put their mask on to ensure that if they come too close to another worker, the risk is further reduced.
‘Alarming rate’ of spread could shutter businesses once again
“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,” said Brown in a news release. “Over the last month, we have seen the disease spread at an alarming rate in both urban and rural counties.
The governor says modeling from the Oregon Health Authority predicts hospitals could be overwhelmed by new cases and hospitalizations “within weeks.”
“The choices every single one of us make in the coming days matter,” Brown says.
The face coverings reduce the chance of the disease spreading through droplets while breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing. Wearing coverings and practicing the rule of 6-feet distance between yourself and others in public, as well as regular hand washing and staying home when sick all help in diminishing the virus’ spread.
“I do not want to have to close down businesses again like other states are now doing. If you want your local shops and restaurants to stay open, then wear a face covering when out in public,” Brown said in the news release.
Acknowledging the steps Oregonians have taken to ensure public safety have been “incredible sacrifices, Brown says the actions we take can protect “friends, neighbors, loved ones, and fellow Oregonians” from COVID as well as prevent the need for another statewide shutdown.
“We are truly all in this together,” she said.