GOP Leaders Decry ‘Ambush-Style’ Mask Rule for Churches

Republican leaders in the state Legislature, including Canby’s state representative Christine Drazan, are taking Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to task for a new rule requiring the faithful to wear face coverings at all times in churches and places of worship — including while singing or preaching.

The governor held a press conference Wednesday where she announced several changes to and expansions of her earlier coronavirus rules, including requiring children 5 and older to wear masks in indoor public spaces and at school.

But she failed to mention this rule — which faith leaders and state lawmakers alike found out about in an email from the Oregon Health Authority Friday — after it had already taken effect.

“Even as a state senator, I am not privy to this critical information,” said Sen. Fred Girod, the Senate Republican leader from Stayton. “Where does this leave pastors and other church leaders if they aren’t on the OHA email list? Unbeknownst to them, this rapid rule change puts those hosting services today in the position of potential lawsuits.”

The new rules require all individuals in indoor gatherings to wear a face mask or shield while teaching, preaching or singing — the only exceptions being for someone playing a wind instrument or for live-streamed or recorded services that have no in-person audience.

Rep. Drazan, the House Republican leader, aired her frustrations on Facebook late Friday night.

“I have been discussing the importance of proactively engaging the faith community to create workable rules in my meetings with the governor for months — but instead, we get this ambush-style 11th-hour rule change that is imposed on our churches and places of worship,” Drazan said.

“I spoke with the governor today, and she said nothing. These new rules are immediately in effect, created without any process or communication with the stakeholders in my community who have been reaching out to support public health and continue to serve their congregations.”

Even in today’s mask-filled world, it is unusual to see a speaker give an address with their face covered. The governor herself has customarily removed her mask before speaking at her weekly press conferences, which take place indoors, as has the state’s top epidemiologist, Dr. Dean Sidelinger.

Both Girod and Drazan highlighted what she termed a “sharp contrast” between the strict limitations on indoor social gatherings and worship services — which the governor has repeatedly said are enforceable by fines and even misdemeanor charges — vs. the nightly protests in Portland, which have drawn hundreds and even thousands to the city’s center for almost 60 straight days.

“Where are the six-foot spaced tape markings on the ground surrounding the justice center?” Drazan asked. “Where are the gatekeepers at the city’s edge asking people to leave tonight’s riot if they don’t have a mask?”

State health officials have said there is little evidence that large outdoor protests have contributed to the spread of Covid-19 in Oregon.

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