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Mask opponents press Oregon Health Authority to abandon indoor face covering requirements

A sign at Hillsboro Online Academy asks people entering the building to wear masks.
A sign at Hillsboro Online Academy asks people entering the building to wear masks.

State health officials are proposing a permanent rule that would be rescinded when it's no longer deemed necessary.

The Oregon Health Authority heard a steady stream of opposition Thursday to its plan to extend the state’s indoor mask mandate indefinitely. Speaker after speaker objected to the state’s current mask requirements, arguing many other states have ended such rules and Oregon should follow suit.

Oregon’s temporary indoor mask rule is set to expire next month. But health officials concerned about rapidly rising COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations have proposed extending the mask requirement through a permanent rule. Health officials have said they will rescind that when it’s no longer needed. Elizabeth Moore of Portland was among numerous people who testified against.

“First and foremost, I think it’s pretty clear especially from the testimony already given — the people simply don’t trust you guys anymore,” Moore said. “We don’t believe that you’re going to take into account the best interests of Oregonians, and we don’t believe you’re going to repeal this.”

While state and national health officials and scientists have underscored the importance of wearing well-fitting face coverings as a way to reduce the likelihood of viral transmission, many people argued to OHA that masks are not effective against COVID-19.

Others argued the mask requirement had too many negative effects on Oregonians.

A few people who are hearing impaired said masks interfere with their ability to communicate by making it impossible for them to read lips.

One man testified that wearing a mask wasn’t safe for him, because he had a lung condition and couldn’t easily breathe in a face covering.

Several parents said they’re worried about the effects on children’s development, including one father who lamented that his 8-year-old child couldn’t remember life before wearing masks.

Oregon health officials said this is the only hearing planned, but that written testimony will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Jan. 24.

According to an email from a health authority official, “OHA will review the comments and decide whether the proposed rules need updating or remain as is. OHA would then file the rule with the Secretary of State’s office in late-January/early February.”

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Rob Manning is a news editor at Oregon Public Broadcasting, with oversight of reporters covering education, healthcare and business. Rob became an editor in 2019, following about 15 years covering schools and universities in Oregon and southwest Washington as OPB’s education reporter.