Mask Opponents Sue To Invalidate Brown's Mask Requirement

Kate Brown displays a mask at a May press conference..png

A group that advocates for limited governmental powers has filed a lawsuit challenging Gov. Kate Brown’s authority to require Oregonians to wear face coverings in public.

The Freedom Foundation announced Thursday that it has asked the Oregon Court of Appeals to temporarily invalidate Brown’s orders as the court delves further into the legalities of the orders.

The group argues that Brown and the Oregon Health Authority didn’t follow legal procedures in mandating masks in all public indoor spaces and outdoors when six feet of physical distancing can’t be maintained. Brown first ordered masks indoors in seven counties on June 24, to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. She then gradually expanded her order to include the entire state July 1, outdoor spaces starting July 15 and children ages 5 and older starting Friday.

The governor still is exempting children younger than 5 and people with medical conditions “that makes it hard to breathe” or with “a disability that prevents the individual from wearing a mask.”

The Freedom Foundation lists three Oregonians in its legal challenge. They say they have medical conditions, past psychological trauma or strong political beliefs about the mask order and don’t think they should have to explain their position to store employees or others who tell them to cover up.

Complainant Chester Mooney of Yamhill County said in a signed declaration to the Appeals Court that he’s had heart bypass surgery, is elderly and believes it’s unhealthy for him to wear a mask.

“I do not believe that the mask requirement is even based on sound science and does not prevent the spread of COVID -19 but does actually physically injure me,” Mooney wrote.

The second complainant, Shannan Pozzi of Lane County, is “a surviving victim of domestic abuse and attempted murder by suffocation” and struggles with “the fear of being smothered and suffocated again due to someone forcing me to wear a mask,” according to the challenge submitted to the Appeals Court.

“I have been denied entrance to a stores to buy food and other goods due to the new Statewide Mask rule,” Pozzi wrote in her signed declaration. “...I was literally kicked out of a Subway, I have been followed and verbally assaulted and shouted at in a Bi-Mart.”

The third complainant, Kevin Rubio, also is from Lane County and says he doesn’t believe he can be forced to wear a mask.

“I do not want to be forced to express approval for the governor nor wear a mask covering my face and hiding who I am when there is no need for me to contain any virus,” Rubio wrote in his signed declaration. “I do not have coronavirus…”

When asked if the Freedom Foundation believes the governor’s earlier state of emergency declaration gave her the powers to enact mask orders, Foundation spokeswoman Ashley Varner said the organization believes the governor needs the Legislature’s approval.

A spokesman for the governor, Charles Boyle, said Thursday that the governor’s mask directives are legal and necessary to battle COVID-19.

“Face coverings save lives,” Boyle said in an email. “The virus is transmitted through droplets that come from your nose and mouth. Face coverings protect you, your friends, and neighbors from contracting this deadly disease. And the more people who wear face coverings while out in public, the more likely it is that we can keep businesses open.”

Anti-Mask Sentiment

Medical experts say the number of people who have a condition that should prevent them from wearing a mask is very small.

Scientific studies have found that masks are an important tool in slowing the pandemic and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends them. A model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimated that the lives of 45,000 Americans can be saved from July to November if at least 95 percent of people wear masks in public.

But the Freedom Foundation says “there is so much controversy” over the effectiveness of masks.

“Governors in left-leaning states all over the country are making up the rules as they go – and ignoring the procedural rules their own state laws set up,” said Jason Dudash, the Freedom Foundation’s Oregon director, in a news release.

According to the mask tracking organization Masks4All, more than 100 countries “require masks in public because almost every Government in the world endorses them as an effective COVID-19 containment solution.” The governors of 30 states also have announced mandatory mask orders statewide. Most of them are Democrats, but some -- such as governors from Texas, Ohio and Alabama -- are Republicans.

A recent national poll found that three out of four Americans support mask requirements in public.

Some medical professionals say it’s the rare medical condition that might make it dangerous to cover up. Those conditions include people with extreme respiratory ailments or muscular or motor-control disorders that prevent them from removing a mask in an emergency. If a person is so medically frail that they can’t safely wear a mask, they probably should avoid public places because they’re at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 if they contract the disease, some experts say.

Advocates for people with disabilities point out there are some people with conditions that aren’t visible who might encounter extreme distress from covering their faces. That includes some people with autism, claustrophobia or post traumatic stress disorder.

As long as businesses and government agencies make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, the advocacy group Disability Rights Oregon welcomes Brown’s mask order. Those accommodations might include having employees grocery shop for people with disabilities who can’t wear masks or informing people with disabilities about pickup or delivery options.

-- Aimee Green; [email protected]; @o_aimee

This story was originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive and is posted here through a coronavirus-linked content sharing agreement among more than a dozen Oregon media outlets.

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