Governor Brown recommends mask mandate for K–12 schools

Aug. 6, 2021 update: The K–12 face covering rule has been posted here.

Earlier this week, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) released a new set of recommendations to encourage all people in Oregon — regardless of vaccination status — to wear a mask in indoor, public places. The recommendation came in response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new national guidance on masking and Oregon’s recent jump in COVID-19 cases.

Now, Governor Kate Brown has asked state agencies to establish a mask mandate in K–12 schools for the upcoming school year.

“The science and data are clear: the Delta variant is in our communities, and it is more contagious,” said Governor Brown in a July 29 press release. “My priority is to ensure our kids are able to safely return to full-time in-person learning this fall, five days per week and with minimal disruptions. With many children still ineligible to be vaccinated, masks are an effective way to help keep our kids safe in the classroom, the learning environment we know serves them best.”

OHA has worked with the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to create operating guidance for K–12 schools in Oregon. That guidance, known as the Ready Schools, Safe Learners Resiliency (RSSL) Framework, was recently updated on July 22 to allow local school and district officials to make school health and safety decisions for the upcoming school year.

However, OHA and ODE had prepared for a moment like this.

“Changes in the amount of community transmission of COVID-19, the severity of illness associated with new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, or the availability of vaccination for children younger than 12 years old may warrant changes to the state’s recovery efforts during the school year,” states the RSSL Framework. “The Resiliency Framework will be updated to reflect any changes.”

Yesterday, OHA released its COVID-19 Weekly Report, which provided a high-level overview of all COVID-19 data from July 19 through July 25. In that report, OHA noted that:

  • There was a 53% increase in COVID-19 cases from the previous week.
  • COVID-19 associated hospitalizations increased from the previous week.
  • Reported cases of COVID-19 increased despite a 12% decrease in COVID-19 testing.
  • COVID-19 test positivity rose from 4.2% to 5.0%.
  • Case rates have generally been higher in counties with lower COVID-19 vaccination rates.

The recent spike in COVID-19 cases, combined with the inability of children ages 11 and under to get a COVID-19 vaccine, makes schools particularly susceptible to increased spread of COVID-19. In the coming days, OHA and ODE will release new guidance on masking policies for K–12 schools. You can check back in on the Oregon Vaccine News blog for any updates.

More information

Join OHA for a Facebook Live on school reopening at 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 18. The segment will feature a conversation between ODE Director Colt Gill and OHA Senior Health Advisor Dr. Thomas Jeanne, who will also take time to answer questions from the audience.

Visit OHA’s Facebook page to learn more.