Face covering mandate expanded to younger children

The message board at the Chalet Restaurant in Newport cheekily admonishes the public to follow Gov. Kate Brown’s face-covering order. (Photo by Kenneth Lipp)

PORTLAND — During a press conference Wednesday morning, Gov. Kate Brown announced that children five and older would be required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces, as well as outdoor spaces where physical distancing is not possible, effective Friday, July 24. 

The previous face covering mandate exempted children under the age of 12. “If your child is five or older, you will need to help them wear a face covering to protect themselves and others. We will keep in place the existing recommendation — not a requirement — for face coverings for children between the ages of two and five,” Brown said. “As we continue to learn that transmission of the disease is reduced with face coverings, we are removing some exceptions, including when inside gyms, even when exercising.”

The governor also said she was reducing maximum gathering size for indoor venues (like churches, gyms and large restaurants) located in phase two counties from 250 to 100, and bars and restaurants in those counties would also have service a curfew of 10 p.m., instead of midnight.

Brown said she anticipated an update to the county watch list — counties, including Lincoln, identified earlier this month as having a high rate of viral spread — in the coming days, and she addressed the possibility of imposing travel restrictions. “Several counties on the watch list continue to experience very rapid spread of the disease, while others may be in a position to be taken off the list because they are seeing fewer sporadic cases and fewer cases overall than at the peak of their local outbreaks. Unfortunately, we may also need to add a few other counties to the watch list,” the governor said. “Second, we are seeing a number of cases due to tourism. I will be taking action to address this soon, and my office is talking with our neighboring states about this. I have already directed my team and the Oregon Health Authority to evaluate the process for restricting tourist travel into Oregon from states with high infection rates, or requiring mandatory quarantine for people coming here from hot spots.”

She ended her prepared remarks with a message blending hope and caution. “It may still be possible for us to keep restaurants and shops open, to gather in groups, to continue to hike, camp and go to parks. But it all depends on you. Your choices determine our future. If we don’t slow the spread of the virus, I will have no choice but to force widespread and difficult closures again,” Brown said, turning the press conference over to Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, to provide a picture of the pandemic’s progression in Oregon.

“Our models told us we would see more infections, more hospitalizations and more deaths when we reopened — and that’s what we continue to see,” Sidelinger said. “Here’s where the situation stands today: Yesterday (Tuesday), the number of confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Oregon topped 15,000, and we reported seven deaths, which matched our all-time high from the worst days of the pandemic. Hospitalizations continue to rise but not as fast as new infections, in part because we’re seeing more cases of COVID-19 among younger people who tend to experience milder symptoms and have fewer underlying conditions. Our treatments for patients in the hospital are improving.”

The epidemiologist said the state’s hospitals have an adequate number of intensive care beds and ventilators to treat critically ill COVID patients, adding the caveat, “But we can’t ignore the looming danger — if left unchecked, we’re on a trajectory to overwhelm our health care system with cases in the future.”

Sidelinger said outbreaks had become less of a factor in the virus’s spread, but the authority was seeing a growth in cases of community spread, straining contact tracing capacity.

“How do we suppress COVID-19 in Oregon and drive transmission rates back down? The steps Governor Brown announced today build on previous measures she has announced in recent weeks. These measures are designed to slow community spread and address hot spots,” he said. 

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