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Carrot and stick: Gov. Brown stands firm on masks but says police shouldn’t write tickets

Gov. Kate Brown news conference 71
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown speaks at Wednesday news conference on COVID-19 situation, statewide mask requirement

Urges Oregonians to 'vote with their feet' and frequent safe businesses

PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Trying to wield both a carrot and a stick on the touchiest of topics, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday those who disobey the new, statewide requirement for wearing masks in public indoor spaces could face a Class C misdemeanor charge – but also said she is not directing law enforcement to write such tickets.

"This is enforceable by law, at both a business and an individual level," Brown said. "As with all orders I have issued to keep people safe and save Oregon lives, violation of the order can carry a Class C misdemeanor as a penalty."

A Class C misdemeanor is punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,250, or both.

“However, as with all of my orders, I do not want local police issuing tickets,” Brown said. “Instead, I am calling on our businesses to step up and make sure the public and their employees are protected.”

State health officials joined the governor in both praising Oregonians’ actions so far to curb the spread of the virus while expressing serious concern about the surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in recent weeks, with Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, noting Wednesday’s new cases are a record 281, pushing the total since March close to 9,000, along with 208 deaths.

Brown returned to the enforcement issue later, when a reporter asked whether asking businesses to enforce the mask rule could expose them to lawsuits, at a time where COVID-19 closures and guidelines have already put them on the ropes financially.

“We’re working with businesses before we move to enforcement,” the governor said. “I’m asking all of us to take this face covering requirement very, very seriously, to protect themselves and others.”

Brown noted that more than 20 states have imposed similar face covering requirements, and repeatedly urged Oregonians to “vote with their feet” by frequenting businesses “that are taking extra efforts to ensure their clients and workers are safe.”

The governor noted the exceptions in the order, as masks are not required for children under 12 (though parents are encouraged to assist those 2 and older to help them wear them when possible), as well as at locations where one is eating or drinking,  or for those who are exerting themselves at gyms and the like, as long as six feet of physical distance are maintained.

“We’re also making accommodations for those who have a medical condition that makes wearing a face mask difficult or dangerous to their health,” Brown said.

Asked what a business should do when confronting someone who refuses to wear a mask, she said, “My encouragement to the business owner is to de-escalate the situation. … Businesses run into difficult situations all the time.” She also asked Oregonians “to be respectful of business owners, staff and customers and clients.”

But when she again was asked if businesses should call police, the governor said law enforcement has a number of other, important priorities.

“We are not asking businesses to call the police,” Brown said, urging them to instead call Oregon OSHA for assistance or advice.

Health officials stressed that studies have shown the combination of face coverings and physical distance can have a marked impact on reducing the spread and number of people with COVID-19.

But if the numbers go the wrong way, Brown said rollbacks in reopening are not just possible, but likely, especially if hospitals become overwhelmed with new cases.

“Your favorite store will only be able to stay open if you take precautions,” Brown said, later adding that the same is true for reopening schools.

“Obviously, we’re sending an alarm with a statewide face covering mandate,” Brown said. “If we can’t slow down transmission of the virus, we will need to shut down businesses” again.

“Your actions will determine whether we open schools in the fall,” Brown said.

If covered businesses “ignore the rules,” Brown said, Oregon OSHA and other agencies are ready to follow up on complaints and use “all the tools available” for enforcement.

“I’m very serious about this,” she said. “I also bet that Oregonians are going to want to frequent businesses where they feel safe.”

Brown said Portland advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy has donated their time to create an ad campaign to help educate Oregonians, especially younger people, about the importance of covering their nose and mouth in public spaces, to not spread the virus, even if they are feeling well and showing no symptoms.

And as for the Fourth of July weekend? After a Memorial Day weekend when many traveled far, not heeding the governor’s advice, Brown said, “Unfortunately, the Fourth of July forecast looks fabulous.”

She again urged Oregonians to keep their holiday celebrations local and small.

“Please, please, please keep your backyard barbecues, your picnics down to your family household members,” she said.

If factors such as the rate of positive cases and the amount of community spread continue to increase, putting a burden on hospitals’ capacity, “then we will need to take more drastic actions.”

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus
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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

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