Oregon to lift mask requirements for indoor public spaces, schools March 12

Starting March 12, Oregon will end mask mandates for indoor public places and schools.

Governor Kate Brown’s office announced Monday (Feb. 28) that masking indoors will be “recommended”, but no longer “required” as of March 12 as Oregon, California and Washington move together to update their masking guidance.

State policies do not change federal requirements, however, which still include masks on public transit.

The announcement comes exactly two years after Oregon reported its first case of COVID-19.

“Two years ago today, we identified Oregon’s first case of COVID-19,” said Brown in a statement. “As has been made clear time and again over the last two years, COVID-19 does not stop at state borders or county lines. 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.”

The most recent announcement follows another made just days before by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) that the mask requirements would end on March 19.

Earlier in the month, OHA had said that the general indoor mask requirement would be lifted by March 31, with the option of lifting it sooner if COVID conditions improved enough.

Hospitalizations due to the virus have dropped significantly and have reached levels below those at the start of the Omicron surge.

After OHA’s original announcement that the K-12 indoor mask rule would lift on March 31, feedback from school districts around the state indicated that preparations for the transition could be completed earlier.

“Based on the feedback from local leaders and communities, OHA and ODE (Oregon Department of Education) are partnering to develop practical updates to safety protocols for quarantine, contact tracing, and testing that meet the current conditions of the pandemic,” said Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education and deputy superintendent of public instruction. “These guidelines will continue to support our North Star goal of providing in-person learning for every student, all day, every school day and will focus on specific supports for students, staff, and families that may be at more risk from COVID-19 than others in the school population.”

State officials continue to strongly recommend universal masking in K-12 settings where children are required to attend, citing those settings as bringing together vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, as well as individuals who are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness.

South Lane School District Superintendent Yvonne Curtis has indicated that the district intends to follow state health authority guidance and remove mask requirements while encouraging awareness.

“At this point, we’re planning to follow what OHA is recommending, and that is we can remove the masks,” said Curtis. “But we’re also looking at strongly recommending that people continue them.”

However, she added that “we don’t want people to be confused by what we mean by that and so we’re just getting feedback from people right now.”

The district has sent out a mask mandate survey to families, which it plans to finish collecting the results of by the end of this week. The survey results will help inform the district’s transition.

In Oregon, daily COVID hospitalizations have declined significantly since peaking in late January. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations have fallen by an average of more than 30 a day.

Only 54 cases were admitted to the hospital during the week of Feb. 20, 2022, according to OHA data. This is down from a peak of 791 during the week of Jan. 23.

Reported COVID infections in general also have dropped precipitously in recent weeks. Over the past month, new infections have declined by more than 80 percent. The seven-day moving average for new cases is 84 percent lower than at the peak of the Omicron surge.

Still, state officials highly recommend that people in high-risk groups continue to wear masks in indoor public settings even after the restrictions are lifted.

They include people who are at higher risk because they are: unvaccinated; immunocompromised; have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of complications; are 65 or older; or who live with someone in one of those categories.

It is also recommended to continuing wearing a mask in health care settings such as hospitals, doctor offices, dentist offices, urgent care and dialysis centers.

As cases have decreased, Gov. Brown announced on Jan. 24 that she will be lifting Oregon’s COVID-19 emergency declaration, effective April 1.

“Lifting Oregon’s COVID-19 emergency declaration today does not mean that the pandemic is over, or that COVID-19 is no longer a significant concern,” she said in a statement. “But, as we have shown through the Delta and Omicron surges, as we learn to live with this virus, and with so many Oregonians protected by safe and effective vaccines, we can now protect ourselves, our friends, and our families without invoking the extraordinary emergency authorities that were necessary at the beginning of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 is still present in Oregon, and we must remain vigilant. We must continue to get vaccinated and boosted, wear masks when necessary, and stay home when sick. That is the only way we can achieve our shared goals of saving lives and keeping our schools, businesses, and communities open.”

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