Statewide Mask Requirements in Health Care Settings to Be Lifted in April

Workers, patients and visitors will soon no longer be required to wear masks in health care settings, the Oregon Health Authority announced this week.

The health authority on March 3 said it was rescinding statewide administrative rules that have required workers in hospitals, outpatient facilities, dental offices, urgent care centers, counseling offices, school-based health centers, and alternative medicine locations to wear masks since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The provisions will be lifted starting April 3. Other states, including Washington, are moving in this direction, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

An additional, Governor Kate Brown-era executive order that gave hospitals the flexibility to respond to a surge in respiratory infections — including Covid-19, respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and influenza — expired on March 6.

Lifting the universal mask requirement for health care settings stems from recent data that have shown overall decreases in the circulation of those three respiratory pathogens, according to Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist.

Dubbed the “tridemic” by some commentators, the trio of pathogens triggered a surge in visits to hospital emergency departments and intensive care units last fall. But Covid-19 test positivity is now at 10% and falling, Sidelinger said, while flu and RSV test positivity are even lower and also trending downward.

Announcing the end of the mask requirement now gives the health care system, local public health authorities and other health partners time to prepare for the change, according to the state. That includes adjusting policies, training and procedures that ensure patient safety and access to health care.

It also gives members of the public, particularly populations at increased risk of severe disease — communities of color, tribal communities, rural communities, lower-income communities, those with underlying medical conditions, seniors and parents of vulnerable infants — a chance to plan health care visits and protective measures.

People at higher risk for severe disease, or who live with someone at higher risk, should still consider wearing masks in health care or any settings, the agency added. Mask requirements in some contexts may be reinstated during specified outbreaks, officials said.

Health care providers will still maintain the flexibility to require masks or other precautions if they wish, and some may choose to do so even after the statewide mandate is lifted.

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