ONTARIO — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown along with two members of her medical team during a news conference on Wednesday urged Oregonians to follow guidelines to hold down the number of cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, which has spiked in the state over the past several days.
The session came as she issued an executive order for everyone in the state to wear masks or other face coverings in indoor public places, including grocery stores, pharmacies, churches, gyms and restaurants, Brown said during a mid-day new conference.
“Anytime you are indoors with the general public you should put on face masks,” she said.
Exempted from her order are children age 12 and under — although parents are encouraged to have their children wear masks; people with medical conditions; and people who are eating drinking at a restaurant or bar.
Violations of Brown’s order are a class C misdemeanor, Brown said, but added that she does not want police writing tickets. Instead, she is calling on businesses to help protect the public and their employees.
If covered businesses ignore the rule, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other state agencies will work to ensure compliance, Brown said, but did not indicate what the other agencies were.
“Oregon, you have choice. A choice only you can make,” the governor said in opening remarks.
When she issued her first executive order regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in March, there were 14 positive cases. Now, there are more than 8,000 cases, with most of them having been diagnosed in the last couple of weeks, she said.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, said the state has seen five straight weeks of growth in virus infections, with new 281 cases on Wednesday. He said more young people are catching COVID-19.
“We seeing the fastest rate of increase in rural counties, such as Deschutes, Malheur and Umatilla counties — counties that have had the highest new cases in the past seven days,” he said.
Do Oregonians wear masks and keep proper distance and protect themselvesm or do they pretend the virus has been hiding or pretend they are immune or that the virus is not a killer, Brown asked rhetorically.
“Oregon has been a leader in fighting the pandemic,” she said.
By taking steps, such as staying home, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Brown said Oregonians have prevented 1,500 hospitalizations and more than 70,000 infections.
“It has one of the lowest mortality rates in the country,” she said of the state.
But a spike in cases could overwhelm our hospitals and close businesses again, she said.
“We have chance to protect ourselves over the Fourth of July weekend,” said Brown. “Wearing a mask is a simple and common sense way to protect each other.”
Dr. Renee Edwards, with Oregon Health and Science University, said Oregon reduced transmission of the virus by 83%.
Wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and hand-washing are the bedrock of controlling the spread, she explained. The importance of wearing masks is that they catch the respiratory droplets from noses and mouths that spread the virus. Droplets also land on surfaces which is why hand-washing is important, Edwards added.
“We cannot become complacent,” she said.