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The New Normal, Again

As COVID-19’s Delta variant spreads across Oregon, leaders to call for a new round of masks and distancing


Oregon dropped its mask mandates and distancing requirements on July 1. Now, after just a little over a month of “back to normal,” Governor Kate Brown announced that mask mandates will return.

When restrictions were lifted, the state recorded under 200 new cases a day. The seven-day average when this article went to print was over 1,000 new daily cases, with over 80% of infections due to the Delta variant since July 11. On Tuesday Brown released a statement saying mask requirements would be put back in place to stop the surge in cases. More details were to be released Wednesday.
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“Oregon is facing a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations––consisting overwhelmingly of unvaccinated individuals––that is quickly exceeding the darkest days of our winter surge,” Gov. Brown said in a press release. “When our hospitals are full, there will be no room for additional patients needing care––whether for COVID-19, a heart attack or stroke, a car collision, or a variety of other emergency situations. If our hospitals run out of staffed beds, all Oregonians will be at risk.”

Brown will also require Oregon executive branch employees will be required to get vaccinated “on or before October 18, or six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whichever is later,” according to a press release.

This comes after Gov. Brown announced a rule requiring health care professionals to either get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID tests on August 4. The rule goes into effect September 30, giving health care providers time to put systems in place to adhere to it.
“This is welcomed news, as it allows us to further protect our workforce and our patients,” said Joe Sluka, St. Charles’ president and CEO in a press release. “We’re proud that 76% of our caregivers are already fully vaccinated, but we also know that means nearly a quarter are still vulnerable. The governor said today the more contagious Delta variant ‘has changed everything.’ We think that’s right, too, as the numbers we’ve seen as of late are not at all encouraging.”

The news comes just as St. Charles is reaching inpatient bed capacity in Central Oregon. A press release from St. Charles on Aug. 6 stated they couldn’t offer any inpatient beds, and that 17 people were boarding in the Emergency Department while they waited for available inpatient space.

“Our hospitals are in crisis,” said Aaron Adams, president of St. Charles Bend and Redmond. “We want to take care of people, but right now, we need their help.”
The strain on the health care system in Central Oregon is attributable to the increase in COVID, but also to difficulties hiring needed personnel, getting caught up with patients who couldn’t access routine care during the pandemic and population growth, the hospital system stated.

“There is a cascading effect that is causing incredible strain on the health system,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, St. Charles’ chief physician officer, in a press release. “This is not going away anytime soon. I know people are tired of masks, but with the Delta variant’s transmissibility, everyone really should be wearing masks in indoor public spaces and crowded outdoor public spaces. And, of course, if you’re not vaccinated, please get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

County commissioners reject mask recommendation

On August 4, Deschutes County Commissioners debated recommending indoor mask use for public places. The board of commissioners was split between Commissioner Phil Chang, who supported the recommendation, and Commissioners Patty Adair and Tony DeBone who did not.

Absalon and Dr. Cynthia Maree, Director of Infection Prevention Services at St. Charles Health System, wrote a letter to the commissioners asking them to consider adopting a mask mandate after the August 4 meeting. Chang said he’d be supportive of either a mask mandate or recommendation, believing they both achieve the same aims.

“The messaging and the public statement of support for mask wearing would be more important than the mandate,” Chang told the Source. "If you think back to when we did have mask requirements, that the mask requirements we had were not really enforceable, either.”

Later, on August 9, Bend Mayor Sally Russell, on behalf of the Bend City Council, also urged the commissioners to reconsider requiring masks in public spaces.

“In your role as directors of the public health authority of our County, we look to you take the actions necessary to prevent illness and death from this disease, and we will support you in those actions. The welfare of our businesses, restaurants, and, most importantly, our community members, depends upon our leadership,” Russell wrote. “The City of Bend, like the rest of Deschutes County, is exhausted by the continual presence (and disturbing new activity) of this virus. The call to act, though, resounds clearly through the recent public health data; we stand with our County leadership in making a decision that puts the needs of community first and foremost.”

The statewide mandate supersedes any decisions made by local governments. The day the rules go into effect was not available when this article went to print.

About The Author

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...

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