SALEM, Ore. — Anticipated guidance from the Oregon Health Authority governing fewer mask and distancing requirements for fully vaccinated people came through on Tuesday — but for business owners and venues, embracing the new guidance would require checking vaccination status of patrons.
Broadly speaking, the OHA guidance allows people who are fully vaccinated to not wear a mask indoors in public settings where vaccination status is checked. If vaccination status isn't checked, masks remain required just as before. Businesses and venues can choose to continue with previous mask requirements and forego the vaccination status check.
“Masks continue to save lives and protect people who are not vaccinated. However, last week’s announcement from the CDC emphasizes the point that safe and effective vaccines are the very best way to protect people from getting and spreading COVID,” OHA director Patrick Allen said. “That’s why it’s safer for life to look more like normal for people who are fully vaccinated. And why people who haven’t had a chance to get vaccinated should do so as soon as they can.”
A “fully vaccinated individual” is defined as someone who has received both doses of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or one dose of a single-dose vaccine, and at least 14 days have passed since the individual’s final dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
State epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said last Friday that a vaccination status check would likely require display of a completed vaccination card, but the guidance released Tuesday did not specify how it's supposed to be accomplished — as written, it requires businesses, employers and faith institutions to have a policy for checking proof, and follow through on requesting and reviewing said proof.
In a follow-up briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Sidelinger said that proof could take the form of a completed vaccine card or a print-out from the healthcare provider — either paper documents or photos of those documents — but it must include the person's name and birthdate in addition to the vaccine records.
Also included in OHA's guidance was an announcement that masks will no longer be required for anyone who is outdoors, but masks are still recommended in crowded areas and at large gatherings. Physical distancing is also recommended in those settings.
Even for the fully vaccinated, masks and physical distancing are still required on public transportation, in schools, hospitals and clinics, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and long-term care facilities.
In a statement responding to the new guidance, Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod made clear that he does not approve, calling it a "vaccine passport scheme."
“Vaccine passports are completely contrary to Oregonians' sense of privacy,” Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod (R-Lyons) said. “In a democracy, having to present proper paperwork to engage in everyday activities is a complete violation of public trust and an invasion of privacy. This kind of dictatorial control over the everyday lives of Oregonians must stop. The Governor should immediately rescind this misguided edict and trust Oregonians.”
Sen. Girod cited the Biden administration, which has said previously that it would not implement vaccine passports at the federal level. It's perhaps too soon to tell if states will adopt a method similar to Oregon for verifying vaccination status.
When asked about the decision to require proof rather than taking people's word, Dr. Sidelinger pointed to Oregon's current COVID-19 landscape — case rates that remain elevated, if gradually dropping; hospitalizations that have plateaued and remain above 300 since the spike in April; and less than half of the total population vaccinated.