A stroll along the streets of Portland shows most residents of this city have taken to heart the advice of health officials to wear face masks in public settings.
"Wearing masks in public is even more important than social distancing," Oregon State University professor Chunhuei Chi told WW in early May. "Ideally, we want to do both."
Gov. Kate Brown's executive orders have mandated masks for retail and restaurant employees, but only "strongly encouraged" them for the general public. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests most Portlanders are donning cloth face coverings.
But in Oregon, as elsewhere, masks have become a partisan flashpoint for people who don't think they are effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19, bridle at Gov. Brown's instructions, or just consider inconvenience the same thing as oppression.
The burden of enforcing masks rules falls on frontline workers in places like grocery stores. The New York Times recently compiled a list of assaults and violent threats endured by such workers when they told people they had to don masks.
Two videos posted on social media over the weekend demonstrated those tensions.
On Sunday morning, Portland standup comedian Seth Johnston posted a video of a New Seasons employee in North Portland telling a customer he needed to wear a mask in order to shop in the University Park grocery store.
Since April 14, New Seasons has required customers to wear masks in its stores. It also provides disposable masks to shoppers.
On the video, the man takes umbrage at being reported to staff by a fellow customer, a woman.
"You know, women suck at being—" he begins, before the employee cuts him off.
"Let's not make it personal," the employee suggests. "I was trying to help you out."
"She was the one who started it," the customer replies. "She had to stick her nose in."
In a second video, the man is escorted from the store, shouting about the mask policy. "You people are idiots," he yells. "How about losing a bunch of business? That's brilliant."
A New Seasons representative tells WW that the store is following recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease control. "Customers are reminded about the policy by a greeter and signage at the entrance, and store leadership are trained to remind visitors of the policy within the store," says communications director Julie Teune. "On rare occasions when customers refuse to follow store policies, they may be kindly asked to leave."
Meanwhile, in the Clackamas County town of Canby, a business owner objected to the governor's policy that his employees must wear masks.
David Thornton owns Bricks and Minifigs Canby, a store that sells new and used Lego sets. On May 16, he reopened for business—but refused to require his employees to wear masks.
He posted a Facebook video, which he's since deleted, in which he ripped up one of Gov. Brown's executive orders and declared he wouldn't wear a mask in his Lego store. The Canby Now podcast first reported the video.
"I can't force my employees and I can't force my customers to wear a mask in my store," Thornton said in the video, according to a transcription by Canby Now. "It won't work for me. It barely works now. And if I can't see the smiles, if I have to hide, if I have to pretend that wearing a mask is keeping me safe instead of keeping me quiet, then I can't face your children and I can't face the families we serve."
Thornton promised to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution to his first 300 customers. His speech caused some friction with the Bricks and Minifigs corporate office in Utah. Thornton posted an update on Facebook saying his employees are wearing masks—voluntarily.
Thornton directed WW to the regional office of Bricks and Minifigs, but confirmed that all his employees are wearing masks.
In the meantime, a ruling by a Baker County circuit judge this morning has placed the future of Gov. Brown's executive orders—including the requirement for store employees to wear masks—in doubt. New Seasons can still set whatever conditions it likes, however.