Klamath County distributed more than 4,000 masks in two days, ahead of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s order for all visitors of indoor public spaces in the state to wear face coverings starting July 1.
In March the county ordered 10,000 KN95 masks, initially intended for healthcare workers and first responders, according to Klamath County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Brandon Fowler. But after FDA guidance on personal protective equipment changed, KN95 masks no longer met the high standards for those groups.
For the general public, however, health officials say wearing any face covering can help reduce the spread of COVID-19, so the county decided to give them away to individuals and businesses. The Klamath County Chamber of Commerce, Klamath Falls Downtown Association Building and the Small Business Development Center divided up the masks and began distributing them on Monday.
Klamath Falls Downtown Association Director Darin Rutledge said that a fairly steady stream of people came to collect the free masks, but after the governor’s announcement of the new mask order later that day, interest skyrocketed.
“Since yesterday afternoon, it’s been crazy,” Rutledge said. The Downtown Association and Chamber of Commerce, which shared about 3,000 masks, saw close to 100 people stop by on Monday. County employees began delivering masks to people and businesses, and by Tuesday morning, they had run out.
The Small Business Development Center, which had about 1,000 masks to give away, ran out of their materials early Monday evening.
Fowler said the county planned to give away the 10,000 masks before learning of the governor’s order, and they’ve now had to pause distribution while they allocate some to county employees to ensure they have adequate face coverings, too.
“We’re working to replenish and distribute more as soon as we can,” Fowler said.
The FDA has since approved KN95 respirator masks for use as PPE in the event of N95 mask shortages, and both masks function in the same way: by filtering out 95 percent of airborne particles. While N95 masks are made in the U.S. and certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, KN95 masks are made in China and have a slightly different fit, which means they are not automatically approved by U.S. regulatory agencies for use by medical professionals.
While the CDC didn’t recommend the general public wear masks at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (partly in order to keep medical-grade mask supplies available for hospitals and clinics), it has since reversed that decision after evidence has mounted showing that face coverings can significantly slow the spread of COVID-19, especially when combined with physical distancing and frequent hand-washing.
Though the virus that causes COVID-19 is too small for N95 and KN95 masks to filter out on its own, it’s most commonly spread through water droplets in the air made by people talking, coughing or sneezing. Wearing any face covering — even, as one study concluded, a damp washcloth — prevents these droplets from becoming airborne, thereby reducing the rate at which the virus spreads through the air.