Face coverings on!

Beginning tomorrow, face coverings must be worn by employees and the general public when working in most businesses or when visiting indoor spaces open to the public. While the general public may refer to cotton face coverings as masks, most who have had traditional safety training understand masks to be respirators (e.g., n-95, air-purifying, etc.). In this June 30, 2020 Statewide Mask, Face Shield, Face Covering Guidance, issued by Oregon Governor Kate Brown, face covering is defined as a cloth, paper or disposable face covering that covers the nose and mouth, while mask means a medical grade mask (sometimes referred to as a surgical mask).

We need to also remember that Oregon OSHA has established COVID-19 requirements and guidelines for workplaces that address face coverings, physical distancing and other protective work practices. Both Oregon OSHA and Governor Brown’s Guidance allow an employee to use physical distancing instead of face coverings if the individual is not interacting with the public and can maintain six or more feet of distance with others. Governor Brown’s Guidance is to better define protective requirements for the public, and to augment Oregon OSHA’s requirement for some businesses. It specifically lists businesses such as grocery stories, pharmacies, restaurants, bars, retail stores, among many others. Indoor spaces covered by this requirement are spaces where the public has access by right or invitation to enter. Businesses are required to post clear signs about the face coverings requirement, and provide at no cost, disposable face coverings for customers and visitors who do not have one.

Public health scientists and leaders remind us that wearing face coverings is one of our best methods to limit the spread of the coronavirus. While not perfect, face coverings, especially if combined with other protective methods (proper sanitizing, physical distancing and limiting gatherings) protect others while reducing the spread of our germs. A key prevention challenge is the existence of both asymptomatic COVID-19 cases (having COVID-19 infection but not showing symptoms), along with presymptomatic cases (those who have COVID-19 and are contagious to others but are not yet showing symptoms). This makes it critical for everyone to follow prudent prevention practices.

It is important to know that the Governor’s Guidance does provide for accommodations as required by state and federal disability laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to provide all persons with full and equal access to services and facilities open to the public. It is the responsibility of the business to educate employees on how to work safely and communicate with people who cannot wear either face covering, mask, or face shield, and to be alert to the possibility of needing to remove their own when communicating with someone who reads lips or see expressions to communicate. Due to the diversity of businesses and public spaces, each solution or alternative protective measure may be different. For example, it may be necessary to set up appointments at private times, or to arrange for personal attention to select products to accommodate those who cannot wear a face covering for medical or other reasons. We would remind our fellow Oregonians, however, that most individuals can safely wear coverings and that masks and face coverings do not reduce available oxygen to levels of any concern.

We know this feels burdensome to some people. We need to continue to find ways to educate others as we rely on science-based information to help all people understand the importance of continuing to follow prudent public health guidelines to reduce exposure to the coronavirus. As we do this, it is important that we thank our essential workforce who have continued to work during these very difficult times. Some workers have said this is among the most stressful and worrisome events of their lives, whether they work in healthcare, in agriculture or at a grocery store. We thank all essential workers for helping supply our food, and provide medical and other essential services. And in offering our thanks, I hope we can all agree that the very least we can do is wear face coverings and masks in public.

OHSU COVID-19 Resources for Oregon
Oregon Health Authority COVID-19 Updates
Oregon OSHA COVID-19 webpage
OccHealthSci: COVID-19 and the World of Work