Oregonians are no longer required to mask up outdoors, effective immediately, according to Oregon Health Authority (OHA).
On Tuesday, Nov. 23, OHA Director Patrick Allen, Health Officer and State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger, and Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill briefed the media on the latest COVID-19 protocols, including a lifting of Oregon’s formerly-issued outdoor mask mandate.
On Aug. 11, Gov. Kate Brown expanded the mask mandate to include outdoor settings, effective Aug. 13, following a dramatic rise in COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations.
“This rule was implemented back in August at the peak of the most recent surge,” OHA Director Patrick Allen said. “This (new) decision, which takes effect immediately, reflects the overall progress we’ve seen on the COVID-19 threat in Oregon.”
Allen attributes the changes to what OHA sees as promising developments in terms of the number of COVID cases, hospitalizations, and vaccination rates.
“Over the past six weeks, we’ve continued to see a slow but steady decline in hospitalizations and daily cases. Our seven-day moving average of new cases as of yesterday was 822. On September 1, in the teeth of this current surge, that average was 2285,” he said. “That’s a 64% decrease.”
Allen also said ICU bed counts and the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are trending downward, prompting OHA to ease up on restrictions.
Allen said a lower daily case count, less hospitalizations, and high vaccination rates are all signs Oregon is moving in the right direction, but he stipulates OHA does not have any plans to remove the indoor mask mandate, keeping in mind the rapid transmission of the Delta variant.
“Although the COVID-19 landscape has markedly improved, we are not yet at a point where we can consider relaxing the guidelines on wearing masks in indoor public settings,” he said. “The Delta variant remains a significant threat to all of us and especially to the one in five Oregonians who are vulnerable to the disease.”
Allen said lifting the indoor mask mandate and transitioning from a pandemic mode to an end-demic mode depends on several factors including the trajectory of cases, the Delta variant, and less hospitalizations.
“We’re going to need to be at a place where we have much less transmission of disease, much less hospitalization. We’re still sitting at over 90% of hospital beds full, same thing with ICU beds. A large portion of those ICU beds occupied by largely unvaccinated people. We need to get out of this phase and get to something that looks a lot more like the flu.”
Allen said a bad flu season kills 600 Oregon in a year, while COVID-19 claimed over 5000 as of Nov. 22.
Allen continues to recommend mask wearing for the unvaccinated, elderly and the immune-compromised, people are high risk of contracting the disease and people living with someone in one of those categories.
Allen also issued a recommendation for school districts to transition from lengthy quarantines to a test-to-stay option for students exposed to COVID-19.