PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority announced Thursday the state will end indoor mask requirements for public indoor spaces and Oregon schools on March 19.
OHA credited the decision to lift the mandate early to a downward trend in COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state.
Based on the improved data, Brown announced she will also end Oregon’s COVID-19 emergency declaration on April 1.
“Over the past six months, as Oregon weathered our worst surges of the pandemic, I’m proud of the way Oregonians have worked together to keep each other safe,” Brown said. “Lifting Oregon’s COVID-19 emergency declaration today does not mean that the pandemic is over, or that COVID-19 is no longer a significant concern.”
“But, as we have shown through the Delta and Omicron surges, as we learn to live with this virus, and with so many Oregonians protected by safe and effective vaccines, we can now protect ourselves, our friends, and our families without invoking the extraordinary emergency authorities that were necessary at the beginning of the pandemic,” she added.
State officials had previously committed to lifting both the general indoor mask requirement and the K-12 indoor mask rule on March 31, when it was projected that 400 or fewer Oregonians would be hospitalized with the virus per day.
But according to OHA, improved conditions and feedback from local school districts has allowed the transition to happen sooner.
“We are able to take this important step, earlier than anticipated, because of the collective diligence and the shared sacrifice that people in Oregon have demonstrated in getting vaccinated, wearing masks and limiting their gatherings,” stated Dean Sidelinger, M.D. MSEd, health officer and state epidemiologist.
According to state data, COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped 48% since late January, decreasing by an average of more than 30 a day within the past two weeks.
As of February 23, Oregon had only 579 patients hospitalized with the virus state-wide.
COVID-19 infections have also seen a dramatic drop in recent weeks, as OHA data showed new reported infections have decreased by more than 80% since last month.
Based on the recent announcement, Oregon’s public schools will no longer require K-12 students to wear masks at school.
“Based on the feedback from local leaders and communities, OHA and ODE are partnering to develop practical updates to safety protocols for quarantine, contact tracing, and testing that meet the current conditions of the pandemic,” said Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education.
OHA said the new March 19 date will still grant local communities ample time to prepare and adapt to the transition, while granting school districts the opportunity to take necessary steps to ensure student safety.
“These guidelines will continue to support our North Star goal of providing in-person learning for every student, all day, every school day and will focus on specific supports for students, staff, and families that may be at more risk from COVID-19 than others in the school population,” Gill said.
Despite the upcoming deadline, Oregon Health Officials continue to urge people with pre-existing conditions and those who are at higher risk of severe illness to continue to wear a face covering indoors after the mandate is lifted.
OHA defined these groups of at-risk individuals to include the unvaccinated, immunocompromised, people with underlying health conditions, and residents 65 or older.
“COVID-19 is still present in Oregon, and we must remain vigilant,” Brown said. “We must continue to get vaccinated and boosted, wear masks when necessary, and stay home when sick. That is the only way we can achieve our shared goals of saving lives and keeping our schools, businesses, and communities open.”
Even after March 19, health experts still strongly recommend universal masking in K-12 settings, and school districts can still decide to require masks after that date.
KOIN 6 News has reached out to Salem-Keizer, Beaverton and Portland Public School districts for comment on their plans. All three said they have not made any decisions yet.
PPS said it expects to seek guidance from the Multnomah County Health Department to determine what’s best for the local community.
KOIN 6 News has also reached out to the county health department for comment.
ODE said it will be updating and releasing school guidance early next week.