Oregon officials will lift the state’s indoor mask mandate on March 12, Governor Kate Brown announced Monday. This is the second time the end date for the state’s mask mandate has been moved up as COVID-19 cases decrease dramatically in the state.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) first announced in early February that the state’s indoor mask mandate would be lifted no later than March 31. According to OHA projections, COVID hospitalizations were expected to drop to more manageable, pre-Omicron levels by early spring, prompting the mandate end date. Since the first announcement, COVID cases and hospitalizations have decreased faster than expected. On January 25, Oregon had a daily case average of 7,918 and 1,057 hospitalizations. As of February 24, the state has an average of 913 new daily cases and 527 hospitalizations.
Last week, OHA moved the end of the mask mandate up to March 19, citing decreased hospitalizations. The decision to end the mandate on March 12 was announced Monday, citing a decrease in COVID cases and a unified timeline with California and Washington, both of which will end their mask mandates on March 12 as well.
“As has been made clear time and again over the last two years, COVID-19 does not stop at state borders or county lines,” Brown said in a press statement Monday. “On the West Coast, our communities and economies are linked. Together, as we continue to recover from the Omicron surge, we will build resiliency and prepare for the next variant and the next pandemic.”
Monday’s announcement followed new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that bases COVID safety measures on individual county’s hospitalization rates and new COVID cases in the area. According to the CDC, most Northern Oregon counties—including Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties—are at medium risk, meaning the CDC only recommends people wear a mask if they have an increased risk of catching the virus. Most of Southern Oregon is high risk, according to the CDC, which means residents should wear a mask indoors regardless of personal risk.
During a press conference Monday, state epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said OHA is “confident” that Oregon’s southern counties will move to medium risk under the CDC’s standards by March 12. Even if some parts of Oregon are still labeled high risk when the mask mandate is lifted, OHA will place all COVID safety precaution decision making in the hands of county health authorities.
Starting on March 12, Oregon will recommend masks in schools but not require them. Portland Public Schools has not announced whether or not it will independently require masks indoors. OHA will also recommend immunocompromised people and anyone facing a higher risk of catching COVID continue to wear a mask indoors. Masks will still be required in healthcare settings per state rules and on public transit due to federal policy.
OHA is currently monitoring a sub variant of Omicron called BA.2 that is thought to be even more transmissible than the original Omicron variant. The sub variant accounts for over 30 percent of global Omicron COVID cases, but has only been found in less than one percent of Oregon’s analyzed COVID test samples. Some experts think it’s unlikely the new sub variant will trigger another wave of COVID because a majority of the population has increased immunity against the virus from catching Omicron, getting vaccinated, or both.
OHA leaders are holding a press conference at 1 pm. You can watch the livestream here: