“#Oregon county revises face mask order exempting non-white people”
Health officials recently announced that residents must wear face coverings where they may come within six feet of another individual who is not from the same household.
But people of color did not have to follow the rule if they had “heightened concerns about racial profiling and harassment” over wearing the masks, officials said earlier.
On Wednesday, the county made an about-face and eliminated the exception, saying it “does more harm than good,” USA Today reported.
“We included the protections for those within our communities of color who historically, and often personally, found themselves the victims of harassment and violence,” the county Board of Commissioners said in a statement.
“We are shocked and appalled at the volume of horrifically racist commentary we have received regarding this policy exemption,” it added.
Commission spokesman Casey Miller said the scrapped exception was a well-intentioned way for people worried about racial profiling to not wear a mask.
“I thought it was mindfully crafted. The focus of the directive was really on the health aspect,” he told USA Today about the directive, which came out when the county was experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases after an outbreak at a seafood plant in Newport.
With mask requirements becoming more common, activists have raised concerns that the directives could put non-white people in danger.
But the directive apparently had the opposite effect, sparking a torrent of angry phone calls and messages from residents.
“We passed this last week and didn’t hear much. And then all of a sudden, our call center blows up with people just yelling at whoever answers the phone,” Miller told the outlet.
“We got so many angry emails and calls, we’ve been totally overwhelmed. It’s been hard to do day-to-day work, like getting information to people worried about health, or getting a test, or getting a meal while they’re in quarantine.”
The Board of Commissioners wrote that “the county received several calls from leadership from our communities of color asking us to revise the policy — it was not providing them protection, but instead making them possible targets for more hate.
“We will not continue a directive and policies that were intended to assist but instead are a potential source of harm,” it added.
Under the revised rules, the only exceptions for the mask mandate are for people with medical conditions, people with disabilities that prevent them from using a covering and children under 12.
“Discrimination and racism faced by people of color wearing face coverings, particularly black men, are issues of significant concern, and we recognize the reasoning for Lincoln County’s exemption,” Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Gov. Kate Brown, told USA Today.
“However, it is also the case that black, indigenous, Latinx, Pacific Islander, and other communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and disparities in our health system,” Boyle added. “For the state’s face covering requirements, public health and stopping the spread of this disease is our top priority.”
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