April 3, 2020

Public health officers from the Portland-metro region shared new guidance today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on face coverings saying that simple homemade masks are a sound voluntary step to further slow community spread of COVID-19.

counties and the state are collecting donations of medical masks and respirators for healthcare workers

Earlier in the day on April 3, the CDC released new guidance that recommends that all people wear a cloth face covering in public places where it is difficult to maintain six feet of physical distance, such as in a grocery store or pharmacy. [read guidance here]

The CDC acted because recent studies show some people with COVID-19 don’t show symptoms and others may transmit the virus before they show symptoms. A face covering could block droplets from someone coughing, sneezing, or even talking before they know they are ill.

“Face coverings don’t meet infection prevention for healthcare workers, but cloth covers block droplets from people who might have COVID-19 and be asymptomatic and have mild symptoms,” said Washington County Health Officer Dr. Christina Baumann. “If we have no symptoms or mild symptoms, when I wear a face covering, I protect you. And when you wear face covering, you protect me.” 

Baumann spoke in a video conference call with reporters Friday night alongside Clackamas County Health Officer Dr. Sarah Present and Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines.

Dr. Present demonstrated the distinction between the cloth face coverings recommended in the new CDC guidance and the medical masks and respirators needed to protect healthcare workers and which are in very short supply.

“It’s critical medical workers have the protection they need to do their jobs,’’ she said. 

Health care workers are trained to use the N95 respirators which fit snugly over the wearer’s face and are made of specific materials. A procedure mask offers less protection but do filter out viral particles. All three Health Officers stressed such masks are critically important to providing health care and remain in short supply. They asked people to donate such masks to their local counties so they can be distributed to healthcare providers.

The cloth face coverings recommended Friday should be changed and washed as soon as they become moist or soiled, said Dr. Sarah Present of Clackamas County. A face covering won’t help if someone finds they can’t breathe comfortably and the cloth causes anxiety, difficulty breathing and coughing. They can be itchy… patterns can be found online. In the coming days evaluating.

Present emphasized this is a voluntary and extraordinary guidance, not an order. She asked residents not to call public health or law enforcement if they see someone who chooses not to wear a face covering. 

“There’s nothing usual in this unusual time,” said Present. “Keep a distance and be kind to your neighbors.”

The Health Officers said the additional guidance came as officials have learned more about the virus and community spread. But it does not replace the direction to avoid close contacts with all but your closest household members.

“This is a change in recommendations,” said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “A face covering does not replace staying at home and especially when you're ill.” 

A face covering is a voluntary additional step, “That final level of protection,” she said. 

“Do not interpret this recommendation as it’s OK to go out as long as you’re wearing a mask,” Vines said. “If you are sick, this is not an option for you. You should be staying at home.”

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