Gov. Kate Brown on Monday expanded the state’s order for people to wear masks in indoor public places to all 36 counties instead of select regions with high COVID-19 infection rates.
Brown said the move is necessary to slow the spread of the disease and keep the health care system intact as the state reopens and avoids another shutdown. The order is effective Wednesday.
The governor initially mandated masks for seven hard-hit counties on June 18: Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Marion, Polk, Hood River and Lincoln counties.
“Over the last month, we have seen the disease spread at an alarming rate in both urban and rural counties,” Brown said in a statement. “The upcoming July 4th holiday weekend is a critical point for Oregon in this pandemic, and we can all make a difference. Modeling from the Oregon Health Authority shows that if we don’t take further action to reduce the spread of the disease, our hospitals could be overwhelmed by new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations within weeks.”
Oregon’s COVID-19 case count rose to 8,485 on Monday, with 146 new cases and two new deaths, according to Oregon Health Authority figures. Even more infections emerged over the weekend: There were 247 on Sunday, 277 on Saturday and 250 on Friday.
To date, 204 people have died from COVID-19.
Oregon Health Authority modeling released last week projected that in a worst case scenario new infections could rise to 560 new cases a day, increasing dramatically after that. In a moderate scenario, new infections could rise to 310 a day but could soon triple.
Microscopic droplets from the mouth spread the virus, which can linger in the air a few hours. Health officials say that while nonmedical masks might not protect the wearer from infection they will protect others and that the more people who wear them, the greater the protection for everyone. Brown said the mandate is necessary to avoid another shutdown. She also urged Oregonians to continue to practice physical distancing, stay home when ill and wash their hands.
“I do not want to have to close down businesses again like other states are now doing,” Brown said. “If you want your local shops and restaurants to stay open, then wear a face covering when out in public.”
Her mask requirement follows pressure by health officials in some areas of the state. Clatsop County asked to join the state’s mandate last week. Manzanita, a coastal town in Tillamook County, also pressed to have a mask requirement applied there, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems supported Brown’s move.
“We know that when we all make the choice to wear a face covering in public, we are doing our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, in a statement. “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.”
The Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, known as OSPIRG, pushed for Oregon to require masks throughout the state. OSPIRG also wants the state to consider a prohibition of indoor dining and bars and close all non-essential businesses in COVID-19 hotspots, citing the current trends in the state’s performance.
Oregon is only meeting half of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention benchmarks for containing COVID-19. The state has adequate hospital capacity and a 14-day decline in people reporting to clinics and hospitals with influenza-like illness, which are two of the four CDC benchmarks. But Oregon does not have a decline in cases or the percentage of people testing positive, which are the other two CDC metrics.
“Universal mask usage is pretty much the biggest single thing we can do to slow down the spread of the virus," said Numi Lee Griffith, patient health care advocate for OSPIRG.
Griffith said the case count will depend on how much people adhere to the mandate.
“If people do not follow the guidelines, do not follow the mandate, we could very much be in a situation where we see a second lockdown,” Griffith said. "I'd like to see action taken to prevent future outbreaks rather than being in a situation where we're scrambling to contain them after the fact."
Brown encouraged Oregonians to keep their Independence Day celebrations “small and local” so infections remain down.