Media outlets nationwide reported April 2 that the Trump administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were seriously considering recommending Americans wear cloth masks in public to lower the risk of transmitting the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. On April 1, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged residents to to take such precautions.
In Oregon, the advice isn't so clear. When reporters asked the Oregon Health Authority and the Multnomah County Health Department what Oregonians should do, both agencies hedged.
Neither is actively discouraging nor recommending mask use in public at this time.
"At this point, we're not discouraging people who want to use some kind of nose or mouth coverage while they're out," said Dr. Jennifer Vines, the tri-county public health officer, during a media call on Thursday. "I don't think we're actively recommending it." She added that the department is waiting for further guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In an email to WW, OHA spokesman Philip Schmidt answered similarly.
"OHA does not discourage anyone from wearing masks, especially if it makes them feel more comfortable when they need to go out in public," Schmidt said in an email.
Vines told reporters that, while cloth masks may provide a sense of comfort, they are not necessarily better at reducing the transmission of infection than wearing no mask at all.
"There's not a lot of science that [says] it helps," Vines said April 2. "Whatever they're using over their nose and mouth needs to be clean, if they're spending a lot of time messing with it and adjusting it or reaching under it to drink or scratch their nose then it's really not going to offer them much protection."
But other doctors have said wearing masks in public, even homemade ones, is an effective and necessary measure to reduce the spread of the virus. In an op-ed in The New York Times yesterday, four medical professionals urged a nationwide mask-wearing policy.
"Even homemade face coverings provide some protection, especially when many people who have the coronavirus show no symptoms," the op-ed said. "Even if masks don't completely protect each individual, they could considerably reduce the spread of the virus. Even if the coverings only reduced transmission to and from each wearer by half, that would reduce the chance of spread by 75 percent."
The White House could issue new guidelines on mask use in public as early as today.