Confronted by rising COVID-19 rates across the state, Governor Kate Brown is planning to require Oregonians wear masks indoors. Brown is expected to announce the statewide mask mandate during a Wednesday press conference.
“This new mask requirement will not last forever, but it is a measure that can save lives right now,” said Brown in a Tuesday press release, previewing the news. “It will help to protect all of us, including people who are immunocompromised, and our children under 12 who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated. Masks are a simple and effective tool that will keep our schools, businesses, and communities open.”
This is an unexpected change considering only yesterday Brown defended her decision to leave the creation and enforcement of safety protocols like mask mandates up to each county. So far, Multnomah County is the only Oregon county that has created a mask mandate, which will go into effect on Friday, August 13.
While states like Nevada require masks indoors for areas of the state with high transmission rates, Oregon would be the first state to reinstate a blanket indoor mask requirement regardless of an area's transmission levels or a person's vaccination status.
Brown first instituted masking requirements in June 2020 to slow the spread of the coronavirus. That mask mandate was then lifted for fully vaccinated Oregonians in mid-May of this year, and then fully lifted June 30 when the state “reopened” and removed almost all COVID safety precautions.
The news comes as the number of Oregonians currently hospitalized with COVID surpasses the number recorded during the state’s worst COVID surge of 2020, in November. Recent modeling from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) predict COVID-19 hospitalizations will exceed the state’s health care system in the next few weeks unless new safety interventions are put in place. The Delta variant continues to exponentially spread throughout the state—OHA recorded 3,229 new COVID cases for the three-day period from August 6 to August 8. One month ago, the state was averaging 100 new cases per week.
While the majority of COVID cases are amongst unvaccinated Oregonians, 1 in 5 COVID cases recorded in July were found in fully vaccinated people, according to the OHA. Vaccines significantly reduce the risk of needing to be hospitalized for COVID, but vaccinated people can still catch and transmit the Delta variant which is why everyone, regardless of vaccine status, will be required to wear a mask indoors.
In addition to the mask requirement, Brown is also requiring state executive branch employees—all state employees except for judges and legislators—to be fully vaccinated by October 18, or six weeks after a COVID vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whichever is later. While healthcare workers may opt out of Brown’s recent vaccine requirement by getting weekly COVID testing, state employees do not have that same option. Some exceptions may be made for disabled and religious employees.
“Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your family against severe illness, hospitalization, and death,” Brown said. “And, by wearing masks, all of us—vaccinated and unvaccinated—can help ensure that a hospital bed staffed by health professionals is available for our loved ones in their time of need.”
More details about the mask mandate will be announced tomorrow.