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Health and Medicine

Oregon health officials lift rule requiring masks in crowds outdoors

In this file photo from May 2021, two women wearing masks wait to be seated at a restaurant in Lake Oswego, Ore. On Tuesday, Nov. 23, Oregon officials announced the state would relax outdoor mask requirements.
Gillian Flaccus
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In this file photo from May 2021, two women wearing masks wait to be seated at a restaurant in Lake Oswego, Ore. On Tuesday, Nov. 23, Oregon officials announced the state would relax outdoor mask requirements.

“This decision, which takes effect immediately, reflects the overall progress we have seen on the COVID-19 front here in Oregon,” Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen said in a statement. “And it is a testament to the perseverance of all Oregonians in faithfully adopting the public health interventions we know are effective in containing the spread of the disease.”

The Oregon Health Authority announced Tuesday that it is rescinding the state’s mandate requiring people to wear masks in crowded outdoor settings. Officials said the rule is no longer necessary, based on recent success in efforts to control the spread of COVID-19.

“This decision, which takes effect immediately, reflects the overall progress we have seen on the COVID-19 front here in Oregon,” Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen said in a statement. “And it is a testament to the perseverance of all Oregonians in faithfully adopting the public health interventions we know are effective in containing the spread of the disease.”

Allen said wearing masks is still “strongly recommended” for people at higher risk from the disease, such as people who are elderly, immunocompromised, or those who haven’t been vaccinated. In addition, Allen said wearing masks is also still recommended for people in crowded, outdoor settings for an extended period.

Allen said he is pleased that Oregon now has the fourth lowest rate of COVID-19 cases in the nation and the sixth lowest rate of deaths. He pointed to data showing steep declines in new COVID-19 cases, including a 64% drop in the weekly average number of diagnoses from September to November.

“Together we have managed to turn back the tsunami of new infections that very nearly swamped our health care system,” Allen said.

However, the virus is still a significant enough threat that the state health authority is not suggesting people put their masks away entirely.

“Although the COVID-19 landscape is markedly improved, we are not yet at a point where we can consider relaxing the guidance on wearing masks in indoor public settings,” Allen said.

He noted that hospitalizations remain high, with daily numbers “at or near the peaks of previous COVID-19 surges.”

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, said a person’s vaccination status is the biggest indicator for how vulnerable they are to COVID-19.

“If you’re fully vaccinated, you’re at significantly lower risk of getting COVID and also from getting hospitalized with severe disease,” he said. “The next best predictor is age. Those over 65 are more represented in serious cases.”

Watch Tuesday’s press conference announcing changes to Oregon COVID-19 mask rules here:

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.