Oregon lifts outdoor mask mandate, effective immediately

Oregonians no longer must wear masks in public outdoor settings, state health officials said Tuesday, lifting a COVID-19 pandemic mandate in place nearly three months.

The state has since late August required that everyone wear a mask in a public, outdoor space where social distancing isn’t possible, regardless of vaccination status.

Library patrons browse the bookshelves of Multnomah County's Central Library, which reopened to the public Tuesday, August 10, 2021.The decision to lift the mandate reflected the state’s success cutting cases and hospitalizations, said Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen.

“Together, we’ve managed to turn back the tsunami of new infections that very nearly swamped our healthcare system,” Allen said in a news conference. “Our collective adherence to these life saving measures has spared Oregon from the extreme impacts experienced in other states.”

Oregon was as of earlier this month the only state mandating masks in all public outdoor settings where distancing isn’t possible. Washington, the only other state with an outdoor mask mandate, only requires them for those at outdoor gatherings of 500 or more people. Oregon is also one of only five states with a statewide indoor mask mandate, according to The New York Times

After the state announcement, the Oregon School Activities Association said masks would not be required at high school football playoff games the next two weekends.

A University of Oregon spokesperson said masks are no longer required in outdoor areas of Autzen Stadium, but masks will still be required in indoor spaces. On Saturday afternoon, the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers are scheduled to play their annual rivalry game in Eugene.

State officials still have no targets for when they will lift the indoor mask mandate, Allen said. Among other reasons, Allen said he wants to see hospitalizations decline further and is wary of the unknown factors that could force the state to walk back from a numeric target, should it set one.

This summer, Oregon lifted all restrictions based on Gov. Kate Brown’s emergency pandemic orders, all but declaring the crisis over. Then, delta hit.

“I think we want to try not to get caught by emerging circumstances in the same way,” Allen said.

People should expect to keep wearing masks indoors “for some while,” the director said, and at least into next year.

State officials Tuesday also announced measures to help ensure unvaccinated schoolchildren who are potentially exposed to COVID-19 can avoid having to miss school.

Under the “test to stay” protocol, students who have been exposed to an infected student but don’t have symptoms can keep going to school as long as they get tested for COVID-19 and those tests come back negative. The tests will be available at school for free, Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said.

“‘Test to stay’ will be an essential tool for maintaining stable access to in person learning,” Gill said. “Nearly every school in Oregon is already signed up.”

Outside of school, though, the students will have to quarantine for seven days after they are exposed, Gill said, whether or not they get tested. And, he said, the protocol can’t be applied if the student was exposed outside of school.

Ultimately, ‘test to stay’ will remain the second-best option for kids.

“It will not resolve all of our quarantine challenges,” Gill said. “We look to vaccination as the key to virtually eliminating quarantines.”

 

Posted at OregonLive by Fedor Zarkhin on 11-23-21

Date: 2021-11-24 07:15

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