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Masks outside part of new Oregon COVID-19 safety measures

SALEM — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced two new statewide COVID-19 safety mandates Monday — a ban on indoor social gatherings of more than 10 people and a requirement that people wear face coverings outside if they cannot socially distance.

The rules come as the state’s coronavirus case count continues to escalate. Oregon reported more cases last week than it did during the entire month of May.

“We are here today to sound the alarm,” Brown said. “The COVID-19 disease is spreading rapidly across the state of Oregon. Each and every one of us needs to take action — immediate action — to slow the spread.”

As of Monday, Oregon had 12,438 confirmed coronavirus cases, and the death toll reached 237. The state reported 280 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases and three more deaths Monday.

Jackson County reported three new cases Monday, bringing its total to 181 after a previous presumptive case was downgraded to a suspected case. The county has had no deaths.

Recent projections by the Oregon Health Authority predict that at the current pace, the estimated number of new daily, confirmed infections statewide could reach anywhere from 1,100 to 3,600 in the coming weeks.

“We are at risk of allowing the virus to spiral out of control,” Brown said.

Following these “troubling trends,” Brown announced that beginning Wednesday people must wear a face covering while outside if they cannot remain 6 feet apart from others or if they are with people they do not live with.

Oregonians are currently required to wear masks in indoor public spaces such as grocery stores, shops and restaurants.

Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County’s public health official, said requiring masks when people are close together outside makes sense.

“I think it’s a prudent move,” he said.

Shames said being outdoors during the pandemic is almost always safer than being indoors. However, people put each other at risk when they cluster together on park benches, at outdoor parties and at boat ramps and trailheads, he said.

“It’s serious business. People’s lives are at stake,” he said.

Shames advised people to put their masks on when they are near others who aren’t part of their households, then take their masks off again once they’re out on a trail, walking in a park or otherwise recreating at a distance.

Brown’s other announcement Monday bans indoor social gatherings of 10 or more people.

She made clear that the social gathering limit does not apply to churches and businesses.

“These new guidelines respond to the gravity of the situation we see developing in Oregon right now,” said Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority.

Health officials said much of the spread in Oregon is due to workplace outbreaks, living facility outbreaks and social gatherings, such as graduation parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties, holiday celebrations and exercise classes.

A third of the state’s cases involve people younger than 30, Brown said.

In Jackson County, 28% of cases are among people younger than 30. The county has had cases in all age categories, including eight cases among children 9 and younger.

Based on state data collected about the spread of COVID-19, Brown said she is not making the decision to close down businesses again at this time — however, that could become a reality if things do not improve.

“Your choices determine our future,” Brown said. “If we don’t slow the spread of the virus, we will have no choice but to force widespread and difficult closures.”

She said businesses such as restaurants that are following health and safety regulations don’t appear to be sources of significant transmission at this time.

Oregon has set up a statewide enforcement task force that focuses on educating businesses first. But if they don’t comply with rules meant to protect employees and customers, they could face consequences ranging from citations and fines to being shut down, Brown said.

She acknowledged that it will be difficult for officials to monitor the size of private social gatherings.

“I’m not going to set up the party police,” Brown said.

Whether or not people comply will become evident in the coming weeks, she said.

“The proof will be in the numbers,” Brown said.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneLinda Bassett of Grants Pass wears a mask Monday while walking through downtown Medford on her lunch break.