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Mask requirements are prudent, necessary

Scenes of returning college students packing bars without masks or distancing alarmed officials in Georgia, Alabama and Oklahoma, and outbreaks of coronavirus are already being reported on some campuses, threatening their reopening plans. That indicates that Southern Oregon University, among others, was prudent to opt for distance learning in the fall semester, and the Pac-12 and Big 10 athletic conferences were smart put off football and other sports until next year.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kate Brown has expanded the requirement for wearing face masks to indoor private office spaces shared in common, such as break rooms, hallways and bathrooms. Employees are permitted to take masks off when they are at their own work station or in a meeting room with at least 6 feet of separation.

All of these limitations are prudent, given the evidence that Oregon’s generally high level of compliance with mask and distance rules has kept the virus from spreading too rapidly in most places. That hasn’t stopped Brown’s critics from howling that she is infringing on their “rights” and demanding her recall.

We have not been fans of everything Brown has done, and critical of her failings in some areas. But when it comes to the coronavirus, she is on solid ground. Oregon remains among the states with the lowest rates of infection, and the governor’s prompt action to order a shutdown early in the pandemic and to require face masks in indoor public places is largely responsible for that.

Still, there are pockets of resistance. Some Oregonians insist, against the advice of epidemiologists, that masks are useless. A small group of anti-mask activists has held demonstrations in Ashland, and on Saturday, a group called Open Up Oregon staged a protest at the state Capitol in Salem.

Local businesses such as grocery stores are generally doing a good job of requiring masks for entry, but there are reports that some customers are removing their masks once they are away from the entrance. That’s not helpful, and it endangers others.

The truth is, Oregon is opening, but it’s doing so slowly and carefully, and the more residents comply with the masking and distancing rules, the faster that can happen.