On Monday, Oregon Health Authority officials announced they would lift all public mask mandates, including in schools, no later than March 31. Oregon has had some of the strictest mask mandates in the nation, and is joined by just eight other states who have some form of a mandate in place at the time this article went to print.
Oregon’s first statewide mask mandate began on July 1, 2020, which expired on June 30, 2021, after the state reached a 70% vaccination rate among adults. In August 13, 2021, a new mask mandate was issued in response to the Delta variant and increased hospitalizations.
State health officials say they’re relaxing mask mandates at the end of March because the latest surge in cases, largely from the Omicron Variant, would stabilize. OHA said they expect that 400 or fewer Oregonians would be hospitalized with COVID-19 by late March.
“The evidence from Oregon and around the country is clear: masks save lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, health officer and state epidemiologist, in a press release. “We should see COVID-19 hospitalizations drop by the end of March because so many Oregonians are wearing masks and taking other steps to protect themselves and each other, such as getting a booster shot or vaccinating their children. At that point, it will be safer to lift mask requirements.”
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- After almost two years of mask mandates, Oregon announced an end.
The average number of new cases dropped 40% in Oregon over the past week, according to OHA, but hospitals are still admitting over 1,000 COVID-positive patients a day and 90% of intensive care unit beds and acute care beds are occupied. A model from Oregon Health and Science University predicts hospitalizations will peak at 1,169 daily admissions and decline throughout February and March, though officials urged people to be cautious in the meantime.
“We’re likely to see as many cases on the way down from the Omicron peak as we saw on the way up. That means we need to keep taking steps to prevent more hospitalizations and deaths,” Sidelinger said.
State health officials added that the mask mandate could be lifted earlier than March 31 if hospitalizations decline to what they’re predicted to be at the end of March.