PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon leaders tightened restrictions on face coverings Wednesday, but many say the attempt to control the spread of COVID-19 violates personal freedoms.
People in Oregon are now required to wear face coverings outdoors when they are within six feet of others, unless they are with those they share a home with.
Many believe wearing a mask is a selfless act to help curb the spread of the coronavirus but not everyone is willing to wear one. The controvery began in April when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first recommended face coverings.
The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners held a virtual listening session on Wednesday to hear both sides. Dozens of people shared their opinions.
“It’s not comfortable, it’s not enjoyable. It’s hot outside, I recognize that, but if we all do it now we don’t have to do it for as long of a time,” said Andrea Nelson of Happy Valley.
The listening session was hosted by Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard and Commissioner Ken Humberston.
“With freedom comes responsibility,” Humberston said. “We don’t get to do anything we want anytime we want at our own whim.”
Nelson is part of the camp that believes wearing a mask is simply doing your part as a member of society.
“I think it’s the same civic duty we all have as similar to washing our hands after using the restroom,” said Nelson.
But others don’t share that point of view.
“Living life in a mask is not living. I want to smile at people, I want to be able to fully hear people and I want to be able to fully breathe,” said a woman from Lake Oswego. “Masks are a slave device and it’s a keep-your-mouth shut device.”
Bernard said he supports Governor Kate Brown’s mandate.
“You give up something when you live in society; you give up that freedom to know you do whatever you want for yourself. You have to do things for other people, too, and wearing a mask protects other people.”
Researchers at the University of Washington recently projected nearly 250,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States by November. Those same researchers said following the mask mandate could save about 40,000 lives over the next few months.
Gov. Brown’s office shared the following statement with KOIN 6 News on Wednesday:
“As the Governor has made clear, it’s critical that Oregonians wear face coverings to stop the spread of COVID-19 and prevent a spike in infections and hospitalizations that would lead to the closure of businesses and public spaces again. It’s up to all of us working together to prevent that from happening. However, we are working with Oregon businesses, including venue operators, to enforce these measures, just as they do with other health and safety laws. We are also working with community leaders to help achieve compliance in other public spaces as well.
However, the face covering requirement is enforceable by law upon both businesses and individuals, specifically, a Class C Misdemeanor. The Oregon Health Authority and local public health authorities can issue civil penalties as well, up to $500 per violation, or take other enforcement actions. The state agencies involved in enforcement include Oregon OSHA, the Oregon Health Authority, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the Health Licensing Office, the State Lottery, BOLI, and various other licensing boards. Licensing authorities can suspend and revoke state-issued licenses if necessary. All agencies with jurisdiction over public spaces will participate in enforcement efforts. For non-business public spaces, it will depend on a case-by-case basis which agencies will be involved, however OHA and local public health authorities do have enforcement authority under public health law. Agencies such as the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department will work to educate the public about face covering requirements outdoors and will reinforce the message that complying with face covering requirements will help to keep parks open. OPRD has the option of restricting access to a portion of a state park, or closing a park entirely in the event of frequent noncompliance by the public. OPRD can also refer cases for enforcement to OHA and other relevant agencies.
Again, though, our focus is on voluntary compliance. Businesses and individuals responsible for indoor and outdoor spaces are expected to ensure that their employees, contractors, volunteers, customers and visitors comply with the face covering requirement. If a business or person responsible for an indoor or outdoor space is making every effort to obtain compliance, that will be taken into consideration in any potential enforcement action. We want Oregonians to do their part by protecting their neighbors and the employees of the businesses that they are visiting by wearing a face covering. We will continue to pursue every avenue we have to ensure that Oregonians comply with these orders, but individuals need to take this seriously in order for it to work. If we can’t slow the spread of COVID-19 using these measures, we will need to look at other interventions, like restricting business activity or travel.”