PORTLAND, Ore. — Though Governor Kate Brown said on Thursday that Oregon will embrace the CDC's newly-loosened mask and distancing guidance, Oregon officials say that the responsibility for verifying vaccination status will fall on businesses and other organizations if they want to follow the new recommendations.
State epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger held a briefing with members of the media on Friday, delivering an update on the current state of COVID-19 in Oregon and giving more information about how the state will handle the CDC changes. Sidelinger said that Oregon's daily COVID-19 case rate has been falling, if slowly, and hospitalizations have plateaued without seeing a significant drop.
Oregon's risk level framework and the benchmarks identified by Governor Brown on Tuesday will remain unchanged, Sidelinger said. Most restrictions will be lifted when 70 percent of adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and counties will be able to enter Lower Risk status when they hit 65 percent.
As to how Oregon will handle the CDC's guidance for fully vaccinated individuals, Sidelinger indicated that businesses will have the choice of whether to pursue that route. The Oregon Health Authority is still working on specific updated guidance for each business sector, but Sidelinger predicted that businesses who want to loosen masking or distancing requirements for vaccinated patrons will have to verify their vaccination status somehow — likely by checking vaccination cards, or pictures of cards.
Sidelinger asserted that vaccine verification will not violate health privacy laws because it will be voluntary on the part of customers. Anyone can still patronize a business, card-carrying or not, but they will have to follow the standard mask and distancing requirements established by the Oregon Health Authority's guidance unless they can show proof of vaccination.
With OHA guidance still forthcoming, Sidelinger did not go into detail about how this process will be enforced.
Businesses will still have the choice of adhering to current risk level requirements and eschewing the changes for vaccine verification entirely. What businesses can't do, Sidelinger said, is decide to serve only vaccinated or un-vaccinated customers.
Governor Kate Brown also weighed in on confusion surrounding the new guidance on Friday, putting out a brief statement on social media.
"Yesterday’s CDC announcement left many unanswered questions for states to sort out. Until we have vaccination verification guidance and procedures in place, businesses should continue following current guidance," Brown said. "While Oregon Health Authority updates guidance, everyone should follow posted mask and physical distancing requirements in businesses this weekend. Thank you for looking out for the health and safety of your fellow Oregonians."
As of this week, more than 2 million Oregonians had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with more than 1.5 million fully vaccinated. Statewide, roughly 56.6 percent of people 16 and older are at least partially vaccinated. Vaccination rates at the county level vary from 31 to 65 percent.