Oregon: Say, how's about a permanent mask mandate?

Alternate headline: Bureaucrats determined to make blue state shift to GOPPerhaps this proposal from Oregon’s chief of its Occupational Safety and Health Division won’t accomplish the impossible, but it certainly has Oregon residents hopping mad. The state’s current mask mandate will expire in two weeks, and Michael Wood wants to dispense with the red tape around renewing rules.

So why not make the mask mandate “permanent,” Wood asks?

As states around the country lift COVID-19 restrictions, Oregon is poised to go the opposite direction — and many residents are fuming about it.

A top health official is considering indefinitely extending rules requiring masks and social distancing in all businesses in the state.

The proposal would keep the rules in place until they are “no longer necessary to address the effects of the pandemic in the workplace.”

Michael Wood, administrator of the state’s department of Occupational Safety and Health, said the move is necessary to address a technicality in state law that requires a “permanent” rule to keep current restrictions from expiring.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” he said.

Of all the proposed “new normals,” that’s, er … certainly one of them. Unfortunately for Wood, it’s not one that Oregonians endorse. OSHD received five thousand comments on the rule proposal, five times more than any other comment count in its history. The vast majority of those are negative, which Wood paints as a reaction to any COVID-19 restrictions. His opponents say that businesses and residents deserve to know when those will end, not keep them open-ended:

“The majority of comments were simply hostile to the entire notion of COVID-19 restrictions,” Michael Wood, the administrator of Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division, said. “The vast majority of comments were in the context of, ‘You never needed to do anything.’”

Republican state Sen. Kim Thatcher is a staunch opponent of the proposal and questioned the threshold at which the mandate would be rescinded.

“When will masks be unnecessary? What scientific studies do these mandates rely on, particularly now that the vaccine is days away from being available to everyone?” Thatcher said. “Businesses have had to play ‘mask cop’ for the better part of a year now. They deserve some certainty on when they will no longer be threatened with fines.”

Wood said the regulations are “driven by the pandemic” and will be repealed but may last past the end of the state of emergency declaration issued by Gov. Kate Brown.

A Change.org petition opposing the permanent rule has drawn 60,000 signatures, but that’s open to the whole world, not just Oregonians. That petition does have some echoes of Wood’s complaint as well; it argues that COVID-19 is not a real pandemic and that it’s no more serious than influenza, among other arguments. Much of what follows sounds like denialism more than a cogent, on-point argument against bureaucrats imposing permanent rules on personal behavior, in or out of marketplaces and businesses.

Its first argument, however, very much hits that point:

No unelected public agency should be allowed “indefinite” authority over any facet of public life.

It’s hard to argue with that, and their petition might have worked better if its authors had stopped at that point. Although, as KTVZ discovered, some Oregonians still welcome their government-edict masters:

Note the outdoor masking in this video, which is basically unnecessary unless in close and sustained proximity to people outside of your household. That raises the question of what exactly Oregon’s mask-mandate rule is. It makes no allowance for outdoor activity at all:

Masks are currently required statewide at all times unless you are:

  • At your own residence.
  • In your own personal vehicle.
  • Under five (5) years of age.
  • Eating or drinking.
  • Engaged in an activity that makes wearing a mask, face covering or face shield not feasible, such as when taking a shower.
  • Sleeping.
  • In a private, individual workspace.
  • Removing the mask briefly because your identity needs to be confirmed by visual comparison, such as at a bank or if interacting with law enforcement.

If you have a medical condition that makes it hard to breathe or a disability that prevents you from wearing a mask, you can request an accommodation from the business or venue or transit authority.

Well, it’s good to know that you can unmask while sleeping or showering. The enforcement of anything more stringent we can leave to the imagination of our readers. So much for following the science, eh?

Small wonder Oregonians are balking at making this “permanent,” especially as a rule-making process rather than through legislation. This type of intrusion should have come from the legislature in the first place, even as a temporary measure, and anything “permanent” applied so broadly should not be decided by unelected bureaucrats evereven if it’s good policy based on sound science, let alone this kind of overreach.