As Cynthia Armstrong and Amber Sigler left Sherm’s Thunderbird Market with a cart half full of groceries, they peeled off their cloth face masks and took deep breaths.
Behind them, signs around the doors of the market asked customers to put on a mask before entering.
“It’s like the new bra,” Armstrong said, and they both laughed. “I get that they’re there to keep everybody else safe from the spread, but they’re just extra.”
Sigler questioned the benefit of wearing masks, and said she hasn’t seen stores checking the quality of masks people wear.
“It’s about compliance, it’s not about safety,” Sigler said, sharing a widespread sentiment that health experts in Douglas County are working against.
It has been a week since Gov. Kate Brown made it mandatory to wear a mask while inside indoor public spaces statewide, in response to days of record-breaking COVID-19 infections. Around Douglas County, businesses have had to adjust their usual practices to enforce the policy.
As of Wednesday morning, the state of Oregon had reported 10,605 total cases of coronavirus, and Douglas County had reported 54 total cases. Fourteen of those were newly reported from the last week.
Since last Wednesday, face masks have been required in all public indoor spaces such as grocery stores, gyms and churches. There are exceptions for children under 12 and people with medical conditions that make wearing a face mask difficult. Anyone can take their mask off while eating or drinking at a restaurant.
During Brown’s press conference on July 1, she said that she does not want local police issuing tickets to individuals and businesses. Instead, enforcement will come from state agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Oregon Health Authority.
“If covered businesses ignore the rule, then OSHA and other state agencies are ready: following up on complaints and using all the tools available to ensure enforcement,” Brown said. “I’m very serious about this. I’m also willing to bet that Oregonians will want to frequent businesses where they feel safe.”
OSHA spokesman Aaron Corvin said that they have seen an initial surge in complaints against employers and individuals over the weekend.
He said employers who take meaningful steps toward enforcing the mask requirement will not be cited. Willful steps would include stopping unmasked people at the door and offering them a mask. It also includes offering curbside pickup, face shields and other alternatives to people who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition.
“It is not enough to put up a sign,” Corvin said. “Our expectation is that business representatives engage.”
Violation of the mandate can carry a Class C misdemeanor for individuals or businesses. Corvin said that if businesses refuse to take steps toward mask enforcement, they can be fined for willful violation.
OSHA is offering free, virtual consultations for businesses to assess their risk level and preparedness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, masks reduce the spread of the virus by blocking the respiratory droplets expelled during speech, coughing and sneezing. Because their use has become politicized, medical experts have had to get creative when teaching people the benefits of wearing a mask.
Douglas Public Health Officer Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer has taken to the Douglas Public Health Network’s Facebook page, making videos out of his garage where he answers viewer questions and does demonstrations. He referred The News-Review to these videos for information.
“I’m not about to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do, but please wear a mask,” Dannenhoffer said in a video last week. “I’m pleading with you to go ahead and socially distance, just be careful about gatherings, and if you can’t maintain social distance because you’re in a crowded place, please wear a mask.”
He recommended using masks in places without social distancing, meaning people from different households are unable to keep at least 6 feet away from each other. These spaces, which include grocery stores, fall under last week’s mask requirement.
Inside Fred Meyer on Monday, almost everyone had some form of face covering. But many let their masks slip below their noses as they shopped in the busy store, and some took their masks off entirely once they were out of sight of employees.
As Willard Mattson left with his groceries, he rode a motorized scooter and donned a blue medical mask. He’s in the high risk category for COVID-19: over 60 with heart problems, and he said he recently left the hospital because of them.
Mattson said he is grateful for the new policy, but thinks it should have happened much sooner.
He said he hopes the people who are against wearing masks will understand the risk they put others in.
“It’s their right, but it’s killing other people. A lot of people like me,” Mattson said. “And it’s not your right to kill people, first of all. I did enough of that in Vietnam.”