SALEM, Ore. — A renewed statewide mask mandate is now in effect across Oregon, coinciding with a surge of new cases and hospitalizatons attributed to the virulent Delta variant of COVID-19.
The Governor's office previewed the return of a mask mandate and a vaccination requirement for Oregon executive branch employees on Tuesday, with Governor Kate Brown holding a press conference on Wednesday to detail when the requirements would begin.
In the press conference, Brown cited the unbridled spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant in Oregon, which contributed to the highest daily count of new cases in the state on Thursday, with 2,387. Hospitalizations are also at a record high, with staffed intensive care roughly 90 percent full. Some hospital regions have only a handful of ICU beds available as of Thursday morning.
“The latest science is clear that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals are able to spread the Delta variant," Brown said. "Masks are simple, and they are effective. Wearing a mask should give you confidence that you are not infecting others, and they are also our best bet at keeping our schools and our businesses open.”
Until this week, Brown had repeatedly said that she would leave the bulk of COVID-19 responses to local elected leaders and public health officials. On Wednesday she indicated that, with Delta spreading uncontrollably and hospitals filling up, most county-level elected officials had abdicated their responsibility by refusing to implement countermeasures locally.
"We have had multiple conversations with local elected officials — I know that hospital CEOs and local public health authorities have spoken with local elected officials . . . I am obviously aware that the Oregon Health Authority has spoken with local elected officials as well," Governor Brown said. "What is clear is that they are not taking action — that is why I'm moving forward."
The requirement applies to adults and children older than 5. On public transit, it also includes children older than 2. It applies broadly to people in all indoor public spaces, and masks are strongly encouraged in crowded outdoor situations.
There are exceptions for some activities where wearing a mask would be "impractical or impossible," including for eating and drinking, swimming and competitive sports, and performances involving singing or speaking in public. In circumstances like these, the Oregon Health Authority strongly recommended that participants be fully vaccinated.
Officials said that Oregon OSHA will again have a role in enforcing the rules for employers and employees, leading with an "education-first approach." OSHA pledged to work with employers making an effort to comply, and said in won't conduct inspections or issue fines immediately as businesses work to implement the masking protocols and put up the necessary signage.
"The emphasis of indoor mask requirement is on personal responsibility –– we are asking Oregonians to make a commitment to protect those around you by wearing a mask. We are also asking Oregonians to be kind and considerate of others and to treat store employees and others with respect: they are asking you to wear a mask to save lives," Brown's office said.