Governor Kate Brown on Tuesday announced that masks would again be required in most outdoor public spaces, including large events, starting Friday. The mandate applies to all Oregonians regardless of vaccination status.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) also strongly recommends masking for outdoor gatherings at private residences when individuals from different households do not consistently maintain physical distance.
“The delta variant is spreading fast and wide, throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic. Cases and hospitalizations are at a record high,” said Governor Brown. “Masks are a quick and simple tool we can immediately deploy to protect ourselves and our families, and quickly help stop further spread of Covid-19.”
Oregon reported a record 4,701 new and presumed cases of Covid-19 on Monday, with 937 patients hospitalized and 253 in intensive care — both new highs in the Covid-19 pandemic.
The highly contagious delta variant, which spreads much more easily than the original coronavirus or other variants and can be carried and transmitted even by fully vaccinated individuals, has fueled this newest surge, pushing Oregon’s hospital system — particularly in the southern and eastern parts of the state — to the breaking point.
Brown has mobilized the National Guard to assist in the state’s medical response and has requested aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other states. Two dozen EMTs from FEMA touched down in the state Monday to help six Oregon hospitals, Brown said.
“It is much easier for people with the delta variant, compared to people who were sick last year, to infect others around them,” said State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger. “This is because they have 1,000 times more virus in their nose – which means that those around them are much more likely to get sick because this variant behaves so differently.”
The idea that outdoor settings are vastly safer than indoor ones has become practically gospel during the Covid-19 pandemic. And though it remains largely true that outdoor spaces are safer, the delta variant has changed the equation significantly.
Where previously, outdoor transmission was almost impossible, the state now has confirmed and documented cases of outdoor spread at large events, including the Pendleton Whisky Music Fest last month that sparked at least 60 new cases.
The state says its newest mask rule does not apply to “fleeting encounters,” such as two individuals walking by one another on a trail or in a park. It does not apply to children under 5 years old, and people who are eating and drinking or those experiencing homelessness.
Those who are delivering a speech or performing music or theater are also exempt. Day-to-day operations of K-12 public school will be governed by separate rules outside of this new mandate, Brown said.
“The combination of vaccines and masks is the most powerful way we can fight this latest surge of Covid-19 and save lives,” Brown said. “Vaccination continues to be the best way you can protect yourself and your family from the delta variant, and the most effective way we can help our exhausted nurses and doctors.”
The new mandate comes at a busy time for Canby’s suddenly reactivated events calendar. The Clackamas County Fair wrapped up Saturday, and while attendees were encouraged to wear masks outdoors (they were only required in indoor spaces, including barns), few did so.
Coming up this weekend are the Big Night Out Street Dance on Friday, hosted by the City of Canby, and the Cutsforth’s Cruise-In at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds.
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