Oregon businesses, employers and faith institutions must review proof of vaccination in order to ease up on state masking and social distancing rules, the Oregon Health Authority announced Tuesday.
The state’s newest guidance on the issue came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced fully vaccinated individuals can safely remove their masks in many instances.
“Under the updated guidance, people who are fully vaccinated will no longer be required to wear a mask indoors in most public settings where vaccination status is checked. In indoor public settings where vaccination status is not checked, masks will still be required,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger.
Sidelinger addressed questions about the new policy in a press briefing Tuesday.
Here are some answers to a few top questions about the seismic shift in state policy, according to Sidelinger and the state’s guidance.
Who counts as “fully vaccinated”?
Anyone who’s more than two weeks past their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is considered fully vaccinated, according to OHA.
Do businesses need to require masks for patrons?
That depends. Under the new guidance, businesses can choose to either set up a system for verifying vaccination status before letting customers in, or continue to require masks and social distancing for all their patrons.
If businesses choose to verify vaccination status, those who are fully vaccinated can enter the business without a mask and without following social distancing rules.
“If they a process to review vaccination records and show that people are fully vaccinated, they’re free to serve customers in that manner,” Sidelinger said.
Businesses who don’t verify customer vaccination status must still follow the same guidance as before, with indoor masking and social distancing in place.
“If they don’t want to or cannot implement a system like that, they can continue to operate under the OHA guidance that requires masks and physical distancing in most indoor public settings,” Sidelinger said.
The rest of the state’s guidance still applies, including the four-tier risk level system, which places capacity limitations on businesses, according to Sidelinger.
Do unvaccinated people still need to wear masks inside?
Yes. For unvaccinated individuals, the same indoor masking and social distancing rules apply as before. That means masks are required in businesses and other indoor settings.
Are their places fully vaccinated people still have to wear masks?
Yes, there are some exceptions to the loosening of mask restrictions.
Fully vaccinated people still must wear masks in health care settings; jails, correctional and youth detention facilities; shelters and transitional housing; public transportation and transportation hubs; and K-12 schools, which are governed by a different set of rules.
How do businesses verify vaccination status?
Businesses need to review a COVID-19 vaccination card, Sidelinger said. That might include a physical vaccination card, a printout from a provider or a photo of a vaccination card on a cell phone.
Sidelinger said businesses should review the names and dates on the cards, making sure the individual’s second dose of the vaccine was at least two weeks prior.
Businesses aren’t required to record vaccination status, but just need to confirm that those entering a business are vaccinated.
“How they choose to keep track of that is an individual decision,” Sidelinger said.
But isn’t that a violation of privacy laws?
No. Federal medical privacy law prohibits medical providers and insurers from disclosing medical information to others without a patient’s consent.
That law doesn’t prohibit anyone from asking about someone else’s vaccination status, and it doesn’t prohibit anyone from voluntarily disclosing their own vaccination status, according to Sidelinger.
According to Sidelinger, those who don’t want to get vaccinated or share the vaccination status don’t have to.
“Those individuals can choose to get vaccinated, or if they choose not to, or don’t want to share the fact that they’re already vaccinated, they can wear a mask and keep their distance and be served by that business. Individuals have options, as do businesses in implementing this system,” Sidelinger said.
What about outside?
Masks are no longer required for anyone outdoors. However, OHA’s guidance still recommends unvaccinated individuals wear masks outdoors in crowded spaces where social distancing can’t be maintained, especially for those who are at higher risk for serious complications with the virus
That includes K-12 sports, which can be conducted maskless if vaccination status is verified, Sidelinger said.
Who enforces the rules?
Just like the rest of the state’s COVID-19 rules, the mask guidelines will still be enforced by state and local health officials, Sidelinger said.
According to the doctor, Oregon OSHA conducts investigations and education on pandemic restrictions, and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission regulates businesses with liquor licenses.
Is this forever?
Probably not. Sidelinger said he expects the vaccination verification system policy to go away as the state continues to loosen restrictions.
“I don’t anticipate that this sort of system will be in place forever. As (Gov. Kate Brown) announced last week, we have some goals in place for how we ease restrictions,” Sidelinger said.
That’ll happen when 70% of the state’s 16-and-older population has received a first dose of the vaccine, and state health officials lift most aspects of the current restrictions.