Lincoln County has changed its face covering directive to remove a portion that exempts people of color. County commissioners announced the change Wednesday after saying they received threats from people who claimed the policy was racist.
The exemption was meant to protect people of color from racial profiling and harassment. But commissioners now say that a policy that was meant to protect people of color is now putting them at risk.
“The expressions of racism regarding the exception has created a ripple of fear throughout our communities of color,” said Commissioners Kaety Jacobsen, Claire Hall and Doug Hunt in a jointly issued statement. “The very policy meant to protect them, is now making them a target for further discrimination and harassment.”
The statement said that vitriolic feedback came from both local and non-local sources. The policy has received national media attention, much of which has failed to explain the reason for the exemption: to protect people of color from racial profiling.
“We are shocked and appalled at the volume of horrifically racist commentary we have received regarding this policy exception,” said the commissioners. “Let us be very clear. The Directive and policy were meant to protect. Threats and racist statements turned it into a policy that now harms.”
The commissioners said they had received "several calls from leadership from our communities of color asking us to revise the policy – it was not providing them protection, but instead making them possible targets for more hate."
The face covering directive applies to all indoor public places, as well as outdoor locations where social distancing cannot be maintained. The revised policy still includes exceptions for children under age 12, as well as people with medical conditions or disabilities that make wearing face covering difficult or inadvisable.
The directive was issued last week, but a county spokesperson said it was only being enforced on “an educational basis.” It’s also not clear how much legal weight the directive contained, since Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also issued a face covering requirement for seven Oregon counties, including Lincoln. Typically, state policies supersede local ones.
The governor’s face covering requirement does not include an exemption for people of color.
As of Wednesday, Lincoln County had Oregon's second-highest per capita rate of COVID-19 cases. Accoording to public health officials, face coverings help slow the spread of the virus that causes the disease