Face coverings will soon be required for children 5 and older in indoor public spaces, including at school, and at outdoor gatherings where a minimum of six feet of physical distancing may be difficult to maintain, Governor Kate Brown announced Wednesday morning.
“If your child is 5 or older, you will need to help them wear a face covering to protect themselves and others,” the governor said. “We will keep in place the existing recommendation — not a requirement — for children between the ages of 2 and 5. This will be consistent with our guidance for schools.”
The announcement removes an earlier exemption that recommended — but did not require — face masks to be worn by children 12 and under in indoor and outdoor spaces, as well as the Oregon Department of Education’s previous guidance that face coverings would not be mandated for public school students.
She said she is also removing the exemption for gyms and health clubs: Face masks are now required at all times, including while exercising.
The mandate does exempt those who are unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition or disability. Governor Brown said the expanded mandate followed the guidance of Oregon Health Authority officials, who agree the novel coronavirus is spreading too quickly in the state.
“When we see the numbers rise, we must respond,” she said. “We must dim the lights. We must scale back, limit our interactions, take more precautions.”
Later in the press conference, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state’s top epidemiologist, explained that the expanded mandate for children was based on new research from South Korea, where schools have reopened.
“What it appears is that children 10 and older … spread the disease as easily as adults, but that children under 10 are less likely to spread the disease,” he said.
It remains to be seen the impact the new rule will have on the Canby School District, as local officials continue work on their plans for reintroducing students to the classroom this fall.
Governor Brown said the Oregon Department of Education will release new and updated guidance this week on what will be expected of school districts who wish to reopen. Most, like Canby, are mulling a hybrid model, which involves a mix of classroom time and distance learning.
Others plan to opt for a fully distance learning model, similar to what was required of schools in the final leg of the last academic year.
As expected, the governor also rolled back limits on gathering sizes in large indoor venues where physical distancing can be maintained, including large restaurants, churches, community centers and theaters, from 250 to 100.
Statewide limits on outdoor gatherings will remain at 250 at this time. The earlier restrictions limiting indoor social get-togethers to no more than 10 people will also stay in effect, with no changes.
“We know that indoor gatherings pose a much higher risk than outdoors, and large groups can easily become super-spreader events if safety precautions are not followed,” the governor said. “We need to avoid this, in order to save lives.”
And though this does not change things for Clackamas County establishments, which are still at phase 1 of the governor’s reopening plan, bars and restaurants in other counties will not be required to close at 10 p.m. Before this announcement, these businesses had been allowed to remain open till midnight in phase 2 counties.
The governor acknowledged that further restrictions on bars and restaurants will likely lead to even tighter profit margins and more challenges as they attempt to stay afloat.
She called on Oregonians to follow the guidelines of social distancing, wearing a face covering and frequent hand washing to slow the spread of the virus — again threatening a second and perhaps even more devastating shutdown of businesses if cases continue to rise at their current rates.
“I do not make these decisions lightly, and there are no easy choices,” she said. “It’s up to all of us to do our part to look out for one another. Oregon, we are going to get through this together.”
All of the changes will take effect Friday, July 24.
Face masks made of cloth or other materials don’t guarantee protection from the virus, but they do help block droplets of water vapor, which many carry the virus, from spreading far beyond the face. If people are infected with the coronavirus but don’t know it, a mask can help prevent them from infecting those around them.