The inexplicable work continues. Oregon will pay the price. 

Gov. Kate Brown approved various counties for moving to the next phase of reopening effective Friday. She will require that the almost everyone (there are medical exceptions) in these counties to wear a face covering effective next Wednesday. Surely I’m not the only one who sees the logical disconnect in this timing. 

We know masking works to reduce the spread of the transmission. For counties that implemented universal masking from the get-go, the pandemic was a comparatively minor event. Some didn’t even need to lockdown. Others are returning to “normal” even now. 

So even if the timing is bizarre, Gov. Brown’s order makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is (1) why it took so long to implement and (2) why there’s no enforcement mechanism.

Oregonian reporter Rob Davis repeatedly asked OHA officials about masking in an interview on April 22. He details the conversation in a Twitter thread, and it’s almost unbelievable these people are guiding Oregon COVID-19 response. 

“Why are masks not required to be worn in settings where physical distancing is not possible?” I asked.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever get to a place where masks are required,” Sidelinger replied. (He didn’t answer the question.)

So I asked again: “Why not require someone to wear a mask when they go into the grocery store?”

Pat Allen, the top health official in Oregon: “When you say require, what do you mean exactly?”

Me: “If you want to go into the grocery store to shop, you will put a mask on.”

Allen: “And if you don’t put a mask on, who will do something about that?”

(We still haven’t gotten to why.)
I don’t know, I said, how about the store owners?

Eight other states had made it a requirement.

It’s not hard, I said.
“It’s hard to figure out what that looks like,” Allen said of enforcement. “We think it’ll be more effective to create a social norm around mask wearing rather than try to create some kind of order and then have the story be failing to enforce the order.”

That was a conversation almost two months ago, and I know this will be a shocker: OHA still hasn’t figured it out. Because Gov. Brown’s explanatory press conference about her masking requirement included this wonderful nugget: 

“You won’t get arrested or get a ticket” if found entering an indoor public space without wearing a face covering. But she said, without elaborating, that “This is a requirement and it is enforceable.”

You know what a law or an order without an enforcement mechanism is called? A suggestion. 

OHA’s had two months to figure this out—more if they pondered it previously—and they still have no idea how enforcement is going to work. I’m sure that they’ll cobble something together in the next few days—they gave themselves until next Wednesday—but it’s just one more example of a group of people who seem absolutely overwhelmed and unsuited for the tasks at hand. 

Not that we needed more evidence of this sort of thing, but Brown and OHA are also violating their own guidelines in allowing Multnomah County to move to Phase 1. From the Oregonian article:

Multnomah County will be allowed to reopen Friday, making it the 36th and final county to do so. Oregon Health Authority leaders said Wednesday they made that call in part because the county didn’t have rising hospitalizations for COVID-19. But Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen admitted Thursday that was not true. Multnomah saw a notable uptick in hospitalizations at the end of last week, he said.

It will not surprise anyone that Brown and the OHA are, again, violating their own standards in reopening Multnomah County. OSPIRG even issued a statement calling the move “inconsistent with the data” which is a very polite way of saying, “What the hell are you doing?”

Governor Brown’s “Building a Safe and Strong Oregon” plan set out several benchmarks that Oregon counties would be required to meet before they would be allowed to begin reopening their economies.  Multnomah County does not meet those requirements.  

Oregon is fairly unusual in that its primary metric for evaluating the current spread of Sars-Cov-2 (“COVID-19”) for the purpose of reopening is heavily focused on hospitalization trends, rather than the metrics recommended by the CDC and many independent public health experts, including: case trends, cases per capita, and test positivity trend.  In the original “Reopen Oregon” plan, counties would only be allowed to proceed to reopen if hospitalizations were falling at both the state and local level.

There are additional details in the OSPIRG statement, but you can already guess most of them: Oregon’s using the wrong metrics, not meeting their own benchmarks, OHA is hiding the data, etc. 

It’s all exactly what one should expect from Brown and the OHA, and we’re all going to end up paying for it. If not now, well, soon enough.