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Editorial: Mask order the right call for Oregon

Editorial: Mask order the right call for Oregon

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We fully support Gov. Kate Brown’s mask order, which makes facial coverings mandatory in indoor public spaces starting today.

Wearing a mask isn’t hard to do, and more importantly, it’s the smart thing to do if you care about the health of your fellow community members.

Besides social distancing measures and washing your hands, wearing a mask is one of the most basic safety recommendations during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

And to be sure, there is broad scientific consensus on masks, since airborne droplets are one of the primary methods coronavirus is spread.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon. Brown’s order came as Oregon is experiencing rising numbers of COVID-19 cases following the lifting of restrictions and a reopening in the state. More testing doesn’t account for all of the increase in cases.

And, again, COVID-19 isn’t the flu. It’s far worse. We realize that we’ve said this before in this space, but it bears repeating.

The novel coronavirus has killed nearly 127,000 people in the United States as of Tuesday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This death toll came despite stay-at-home orders, forced business closures and other rather drastic regulations that helped curb the spread of the illness. (The CDC, for full disclosure, believes its own figures are artificially low.)

Seasonal influenza has resulted in an average of about 37,500 deaths every year in the last decade or so, according to CDC data. Since the winter of 2010-11, the peak year for the flu resulted in 61,000 deaths.

So the pandemic is real, and we’re just a few months into it.

Thankfully, many Oregonians already have figured out what kinds of masks or other facial coverings work best for them in terms of protection and comfort.

Some of us prefer surgical-style masks, while others prefer neck gaiters for comfort, as you can pull the cloth up when you see a coworker approaching — or, if it’s your day off, another hiker.

If residents don’t have the money to buy masks from the store, where they can be completely overpriced, there’s been ample time — and there still is time — to connect with a group of crafty locals who will be more than happy to provide masks and do their part to help stop COVID-19.

And, let’s face it, if you’re making a quick run to the store and forget your mask, your facial covering could be a bandanna or a T-shirt wrapped around your mouth and nose. Cotton is an effective barrier for airborne droplets.

The timing for the mask rule seems about right. More people are ready and able to meet any facial covering requirement.

Last week, the Benton County commissioners “strongly recommended” face coverings both indoors and outdoors unless 6 feet of distance can be maintained, and encouraged businesses to consider requiring masks for customers and employees.

At the time, our first response was that the ordinance was a nice step in the right direction, but we wished mid-valley municipalities would enact rules making masks mandatory.

Some of them, we knew, would not have the courage for strong action.

Brown’s order completely circumvents any patchwork of local regulations that likely would have resulted.

Masks also were already required in eight Oregon counties, so now there’s no confusion throughout the state about where masks are mandatory and where they aren’t. Oregon’s mask rule also aligns it with California.

Make no mistake, this mask rule will be extremely unpopular with a certain anti-science segment of the population, and there will be people pushing the boundaries to see if they can go into stores without facial coverings.

The politicization of masks has been one of the most perplexing developments of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the United States, in part because masks are good for business.

If wearing facial coverings is even partially effective at halting the spread of COVID-19, donning a mask helps keep businesses open and people employed. It’s not just the smart thing to do scientifically, it’s the smart thing to do if you care about the survival of local shops and stores.

Seeing a spike in cases after the state loosened its restrictions should have served as an eye-opener for Oregon residents. And it should be clear that if the rise in COVID-19 continues, Brown may backtrack on the state’s reopening. Don't want that to happen? Wear a mask.

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