Oregon County Exempts Non-White People From Mandatory Face Mask Order

Lincoln County in Oregon has exempted non-white residents from a new order mandating mask-wearing in public in an attempt to counter racial profiling.

Last week, health officials declared face coverings would be required in public settings where individuals may come within six feet of someone outside their household after the county saw a spike in coronavirus cases.

On Tuesday, the county said "people of color who have heightened concerns about racial profiling and harassment due to wearing face coverings in public" will be exempt from the order.

Previous exemptions from wearing a face mask in public included those under 12 years of age, those with medical conditions who have difficulty breathing with a mask on and those with disabilities that prevent the wearing of a face covering.

"No person shall intimidate or harass people who do not comply," health officials said. "This Directive is intended to induce voluntary compliance and compliment education and encouragement of use of face coverings to protect ourselves and our community."

Lincoln County has reported 292 of Oregon's 7,201 confirmed cases of coronavirus. As of Tuesday, only one death has occurred in the county.

mask sign
A sign reminds people to wear face masks as a response to the coronavirus outbreak on April 13, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Multiple mask orders have been implemented across the country, including Lincoln County in Oregon. On Tuesday, Lincoln County added people of color as exceptions to the order. Ethan Miller/Getty

The surge of face mask requirements has caused debate among activists who argue that masks endanger non-white people due to racial stereotypes that exist.

"For many Black people, deciding whether or not to wear a bandana in public to protect themselves and others from contracting coronavirus is a lose-lose situation that can result in life-threatening consequences either way," Director of ACLU's Racial Justice Program ReNika Moore told CNN in April.

Ohio State University economic professor Trevor Logan said that enforcing Black people to wear a mask would be "basically telling people to look dangerous given racial stereotypes that are out there."

"It looks like almost every criminal sketch of any garden-variety black suspect," he told CNN in April.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that all Americans wear face coverings to help contain the coronavirus outbreak. The CDC has said that masks provide an extra layer to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets, which are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.

"This seems like a reasonable response unless you just sort of take American society out of it. When you can't do that, you're basically telling people to look dangerous given racial stereotypes that are out there," Logan told CNN.

Newsweek reached out to Lincoln County for comment but representatives did not respond by publication.