Since July 1, Oregonians across the state have been required to wear masks when inside public buildings—but with some of those public spaces being places we go to eat and drink, the rules can get pretty confusing. Take the mask off too early and risk being publicly shamed by a zealous mask-wearer. Wear it while trying to sip a margarita and risk being an attractant for the bees who catch a whiff of your sugary-sweet face covering.
- When to mask and unmask can be a tricky tango while dining in.
As Oregonians come to terms with this new edict, there's plenty of confusion and gray area—and the notion of eating and drinking indoors in public is definitely colored a shade of solid slate-gray.
The general advice from Deschutes County Health Services is this:
"When at a restaurant or bar, face covering guidelines require that you wear a face covering while waiting in line, walking to and from your table, to the restroom etc.," Emily Freeland, an environmental health specialist for Deschutes County Health Services wrote in an email to the Source. "While seated at a table at least 6 feet from other parties, you can take off your mask. Best practice is to remove your mask carefully, place it on a clean surface and then sanitize your hands. If you have a disposable mask and a second face covering, you can replace it with a clean face covering." In an instructional video, St. Charles Health System recommended a similar approach: Have more than one mask available, and a bag to put masks in, to help cut down on contamination.
In the era of indoor face-covering requirements, Freeland says misusing face coverings is one of the biggest issues.
"We do not recommend wearing your mask hanging from your ear or around your neck," Freeland reminded. "This can lead to bad habits for face covering use."
A local primary care provider offered more explanation.
"The problem with having your mask under your chin and then putting it back over your face, is that you A) your chin does not need protection from COVID-19; your mouth and your nose DO," Havilah Brodhead, a family nurse practitioner at Hearthside Medicine in Bend told the Source. "And B) when taking it off and on, you'll likely touch the inside of it with your fingers—your fingers which likely were touching a bar counter, door handle, cell phone or table that may have COVID-19 virus on the surface. So instead of keeping the virus FURTHER away from you, you are actually bringing it right up to your nose and mouth to deeply breathe in while your mask is on."
Brodhead said seeing food service workers play loose with face coverings is especially concerning.
"It has been disconcerting, to say the least, to be one of the many providers and conscientious citizens on the front lines trying to hold up the levee, doing anything we possibly can to reduce infection, and then go to the store, a restaurant, or a park and see large groups of people shoulder to shoulder, not wearing masks," she wrote. "Perhaps even more disconcerting are those wearing a mask at their places of employment 'because they have to' and not wearing them properly, for example, under their chins or under their noses. It is akin to wearing a condom with a gaping hole in the end... Maybe you will get lucky, but maybe you get a baby and COVID-19 is definitely not as cute as a baby!"
If you're going to go out to restaurants or bars, Brodhead recommends choosing places where the business as well as the patrons practice proper hygiene, including wearing masks over both mouth and nose, and to choose places that have widely spaced seating. Keep your mask on while ordering, Brodhead recommends, and when you take the mask off, avoid touching the inside of it.
"And for the love of all things holy, please do NOT set it dirty side down on the table! The best place for your mask if not on your face is inside a plastic, cloth or brown paper bag," Brodhead wrote. "The worst place for your mask is face-down on the table—this is akin to wiping your bum and placing your used toilet paper on the table, then deciding to re-use it. Just don't do it. That's yucky."
And what about personal straws that you could, in theory, use even while wearing a mask?
Freeland of Deschutes County Health Services advised, "Use of personal straws is not prohibited and the use of a clean straw from home most likely presents little additional risk. However, some establishments may have policies prohibiting their use."