Following today's announcement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Americans should now wear face coverings in public to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, health officials in three Portland-area counties issued the same recommendation.
Prior to today, state and county officials declined to take a strong stance one way or the other on the use of face coverings in public. But on the media call Friday evening, Dr. Jennifer Vines of Multnomah County, Dr. Sarah Present of Clackamas County and Dr. Christina Baumann of Washington County said the shift in policy was a result of the new guidelines from the CDC.
"We're always learning new things. There's always new information coming out," Baumann said. "For that reason, taking the additional precautions of wearing face coverings when we're out can address the gap in the time before we know that we're sick."
The doctors made a distinction between surgical masks and N95 respirators, which they said need to be reserved for frontline workers, and DIY cloth face masks, bandannas and other at-home face coverings, which they are recommending for the public.
Vines cautioned Oregonians that cloth masks need to be laundered regularly, and they should not be worn if dirty.
"For people listening and thinking about making their own masks," Vines said, "they would want to make sure they're washable and laundered every day. You really wouldn't want to be wearing it if it's dirty or soiled."
The health officials said that while they are recommending face coverings in public, it's voluntary—not a rule that will be enforced, like the governor's order to stay 6 feet apart. In other words, people are still allowed out in public without such a covering.
"When I wear a face covering, I protect you," Baumann said. "When you wear a face covering, you protect me."
As of Friday evening, there were 899 positive COVID-19 cases in Oregon, and 22 deaths from the virus.