PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Oregon Health Authority is filing permanent school mask and vaccination rules as the state grapples with the omicron surge, OHA announced Friday.
The rules would require indoor masking for K-12 schools and would require school teachers and staff to be vaccinated.
Officials are also working on measures to determine when it will be safe to lift the mask rule, OHA said.
These permanent rules are replacing temporary mask rules that expired Friday. OHA noted that temporary rules are valid for 180 days.
Additionally, OHA is set to file permanent rules for healthcare workers on Monday. These rules would require healthcare workers to wear masks, and “in most health care settings” be fully vaccinated, OHA said.
Health officials are also reviewing public comments for another permanent rule proposal for indoor masks in public settings. This rule would also replace a temporary rule in place that expires February 8.
During Friday’s press conference, State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger said OHA may adjust or rescind the rules to adjust to stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We need to look at the number of COVID-19-positive folks in the hospital who are receiving care and the impact on the ability of the hospitals to provide care,” Sidelinger said. “What we know right now is that those numbers are still increasing but are anticipated to peak soon – within the next week to week and a half – and then are anticipated to come down rather quickly.”
Sidelinger also noted that the drop in hospitalizations will likely be sooner than the Delta surge as patients need less critical care and aren’t staying in the hospital as long.
“So I would anticipate, in the coming weeks to month and a half, that we will see a significant decrease in the number of people with COVID in the hospital,” he said, “and at that time it’ll be a time to start talking about ‘Can we move from a requirement for masks in indoor public spaces to a recommendation for certain populations or in certain communities where rates are higher?’”
Protective steps in the next several weeks are critical to ensure hospital capacity needs across the state. This includes Oregonians getting vaccinated – including booster doses – wearing masks indoors and in outdoor crowded areas, and staying home if you test positive, Sidelinger added.
“It also means extending protective measures that were enacted earlier in the pandemic requiring mask wearing in schools and health care settings, and requiring vaccinations for school employees and health care workers and wearing masks in indoor settings,” Sidelinger said.
These permanent rules follow the public comment period from December 10 through January 24. Public hearings were also held on January 20 on the indoor masking rule, and other hearings on January 24 covering mask and vaccination rules for schools and in health care settings.