PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Dozens of people voiced their strong opposition against keeping masks mandatory in Oregon schools during a public meeting held by the Oregon Health Authority on Monday.

The 9 a.m. hearing came shortly after the OHA recently proposed a “permanent” mask mandate for indoor public spaces. The mandate would mean there is no expiration date on the mask rule, but health officials say they would terminate it once they feel it is no longer necessary.

“This has never been about health. It’s all about control,” one opponent testified on Monday. “Forcing young children to mask day in and day out is an abusive form of conditioning. You’re teaching them submission and nothing else. Only a truly evil person would vote to mask children indefinitely.”

Health leaders maintain masking helps prevent transmission of COVID, especially the highly contagious omicron variant. Oregon is in the middle of a surge, although officials said cases have plateaued in the state.

Dr. Mary Tanski of OHSU maintains masking helps prevent COVID transmission.

“This is not the time to be lax and avoid some of the things we know that prevents the spread,” Tanski said.

The current masking rule expires on February 8.

But Oregon is one of less than a dozen states requiring masks for everyone. Opponents were very vocal and said masking is harming their kids.

But Oregon health leaders maintain safety measures — like required masking — has helped Oregon have lower case counts, hospitalizations and deaths compared to other states. The masking requirement for everyone in schools is a way to try to help keep schools open and prevent transmission in classrooms.

A second hearing began at 2 p.m. to focus on masking and vaccination requirements in health care settings.

Last week’s opposition

OHA held a public hearing last Thursday regarding the indoor mask mandate. Several Oregonians shared strong opposition to the mandate, and some even said they no longer trusted OHA’s recommendations.

“Up until now, masking was a temporary measure re-examined and renewed every 180 days. This puts a forcing function of time into each mask mandate requiring you to look at current evidence and hear public opinion,” a West Linn resident said in opposition. “Even as a manner of ceremony — by passing a permanent rule you eliminate these critical checkpoints during what is a rapidly evolving situation.”

The OHA says to of the most important tools the state has to control COVID-19 are vaccination and masking.