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Mask rules need clarification

I keep reading about how effective face masks are, but I also read how poorly some face mask substitutes are in preventing transmission of the COVID-19 virus. If we can require the use of face masks, then why can’t we have specific wearing requirements? For example, why do some businesses allow people to not cover their nose with a mask? And why doesn’t Oregon give information that bandannas are not an acceptable substitute for a regular face mask?

I read too many stories of how poorly some face coverings perform. Then, let’s discuss why Oregon allows clear face shields when they do nothing to prevent the trapping of viruses or the fact they allow people to breath virus-laden air from spreaders.

If airlines can restrict people from boarding without a proper mask, why can’t supermarkets and hardware stores do the same? We should have specific information posted at every entrance to every store and business.

— Jim

We’ll try to answer your questions in order based on information we got from Gov. Kate Brown’s office and the Oregon Health Authority.

Under conditions where businesses are required to have employees and the public wear masks, they are also required to make sure people are wearing them properly, which means covering the person’s mouth and nose, according to Tim Heider, public information officer for OHA.

Any covering for the face, including scarves, bandannas and cloth face coverings, is considered effective, although cloth face coverings that have loops for the ears are optimal, Heider said.

We looked at research on the effectiveness of various ways of covering your face.

Medical-grade N99 and N95 masks are the most effective at filtering virus particles.

Fabric masks made with three layers of material, or a single-layer silk face covering, can be almost as effective.

High thread-count fabric is better than low thread-count fabric, researchers found.

Some of the least effective face coverings are knitted masks and bandannas, although researchers found almost any face covering is better than none at all.

Face masks with valves or vents that allow the wearer to breathe out unfiltered air don’t protect others from viruses. Jackson County Public Health recommends that people not wear such masks.

Researchers found face coverings of polyester spandex can actually divide droplets into smaller particles that stay airborne longer, possibly increasing infection risk.

As for clear plastic face shields, OHA says a face shield that covers the forehead, extends below the chin and wraps around the sides of the face is acceptable.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is currently not enough evidence to show that face shields are effective at controlling the emission of viruses from the wearer.

However, both the CDC and OHA say that people who are deaf or hard of hearing, along with those who care for them or communicate with them, may find it easier to communicate while wearing a face shield. A face mask covers the mouth, making it hard for the hearing-impaired to read lips.

Businesses can require people to wear face coverings indoors in many instances. People with disabilities that prevent them from wearing masks must be offered reasonable accommodations. However, that doesn’t mean the person has to be allowed inside a store without a face covering. The businesses could offer curbside pick-up or delivery, for example, according to OHA.

Businesses are not allowed to ask what disability a person has or require proof of a disability, OHA says.

Last but not least, you wondered why Oregon doesn’t issue a pamphlet about face coverings to be posted at every business entrance.

OHA has created a sign that businesses can print out and use to inform the public that masks, face shields or face coverings are required for everyone age 5 and older. The sign says individuals can request accommodations.

The information is available in multiple languages, large print and braille.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.