Oregon Moves Up Timeline, Will Lift Mask Mandates in Schools, Businesses Next Week

In a surprise move, Governor Kate Brown said Monday that Oregon, Washington and California will jointly lift their indoor mask mandate on March 12. Masks will no longer be required in schools but state officials will recommend they still be used, according to a news release.

The announcement came exactly two years after the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in Oregon in a Lake Oswego elementary school employee.

It also followed new guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which on Friday dropped its indoor mask recommendation for most of the country, citing improving Covid-19 metrics on several fronts.

The joint announcement reflects declining cases and hospitalizations across the West. It also reflects the movement of the virus. It is blind to borders.

The first case in the U.S. was identified on January 21, 2020 — in Washington state. Less than a month later — on February 19 – a man in Washington County tested positive for the virus.

“Covid-19 does not stop at state borders or county lines,” Brown said in a statement. “On the West Coast, our communities and economies are linked. Together, as we continue to recover from the omicron surge, we will build resiliency and prepare for the next variant and the next pandemic.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee said: “While this represents another step forward for Washingtonians, we must still be mindful that many within our communities remain vulnerable. Many businesses and families will continue choosing to wear masks, because we’ve learned how effective they are at keeping one another safe.”

Masks will continue to be required in Oregon in high-transmission settings like health care facilities and on public transit. The latter is required by federal law.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said that the requirement will also remain in his state for homeless shelters, emergency shelters and in long-term care facilities. Brown’s office didn’t immediately respond to a question about whether that would be the case as well in Oregon.

“There will be some exceptions for state employees,” said Liz Merah, one of Brown’s spokespeople, told the Capital Chronicle in an email. “For example, state employees working in health care or correctional settings may still be required to wear a mask.”

Merah said Monday’s announcement would not affect government buildings that are currently closed. State office buildings in Salem and the Portland State Office building in Northeast Portland that only have been open to the public by appointment will reopen May 1, as announced last week.

Last Thursday, Brown and the Oregon Health Authority said that indoor and school mask mandates would be lifted Friday, March 19, nearly two weeks earlier than originally announced because of the rapid decline in people hospitalized with Covid.

On Friday, 527 people with Covid were in an Oregon hospital bed, with 98 in intensive care and 52 on a ventilator, according to Oregon Health Authority data. That compares with 1,130 people hospitalized on Jan. 27 at the peak of the omicron hospitalizations. A total of 169 people with Covid were in an intensive care bed.

An Oregon Health & Science University prediction said last week that hospitalizations would fall to 400 by March 20. That’s the number that the state wanted to reach to lift the remaining Covid mandates.

At the moment, the risk of becoming infected with the virus is only low in two counties in Oregon: Malheur and Grant.

The bottom half of Oregon from Lane, Benton, Jefferson and Crook counties east through Harney County and south to the California border remain at high risk for Covid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The northern part of the state faces a medium risk. Only Columbia County in the north is at high risk.

Brown said last week that the state of emergency would end April 1. That won’t change, Merah said.

“As we learn to live with this virus, we must remain vigilant to protect each other and prevent disruption to our schools, businesses, and communities – with a focus on protecting our most vulnerable and the people and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19,” Brown said.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501(c)(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence.

Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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