Lincoln County is set to become the first jurisdiction in Oregon to require the use of face coverings in all indoor public places.
It comes during a spike in COVID-19 cases, including a large outbreak at a seafood processing facility in Newport. The county went from five confirmed cases to more than 200 in the span of two weeks.
Face coverings are recommended by public health officials as a way to slow the spread of the virus.
“It is absolutely the strongest statement that we believe we can make to try to help push the public in the direction of greater use of masking,” said Lincoln County Commissioner Claire Hall.
For now, the directive will not carry any penalties for non-compliance. That could change as soon as Friday. That's when commissioners will meet with leaders from all seven county municipalities, with a possible outcome of putting the requirement in statute.
If the ordinance is passed, it's not clear what the penalties would be for people who refuse to wear a face covering. "I think there's a range of difference among (local officials)," said Hall. "I think some folks feel that a voluntary masking program is still sufficient. Others would like to see us have the capacity to really bring the enforcement hammer down, if neccesary."
Some coastal communities took steps this spring to limit visitors in an effort to keep COVID-19 at bay. Those restrictions have largely been lifted, although unlike most Oregon counties, Lincoln County remains in Phase One of Gov. Kate Brown's re-opening plan.
"We appreciate our visitors. We know that they're the lifeblood of our community," said Hall. "But as part of our strategy to try to contain this outbreak, we're asking people to at least consider delaying their next visit. And if they do want to come, to be aware of this situation and that the masking directive, or possibly ordinance, will be in place."
To date, no government body in the state of Oregon has mandated the use of face coverings in public places. Many local governments, along with the Warm Springs Reservation, require them in order to enter government facilities. But the Lincoln County directive would apply to all indoor public places, including privately-owned businesses.