Oregon’s current hospitalization rates remain high at more than 1,000 per day. However, health scientists predict that by late March, approximately 400 or fewer people in Oregon will be hospitalized with COVID-19, which led to the decision to lift the indoor mask requirement on or before March 31. Mask requirements for schools will remain in place until March 31 to give children time to get fully vaccinated before masks are no longer required in schools. The mask requirement for health care workers will not be lifted March 31.
“The evidence from Oregon and around the country is clear: masks save lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state health officer. “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.”
Oregon has the third lowest cumulative COVID-19 case rate in the nation and the eighth lowest COVID-19 death rate since the start of the pandemic. Oregon’s comparatively strong compliance with mask requirements and its high vaccination and booster rates have blunted the Omicron surge and – for now – prevented Oregon’s hospitals from breaking under potentially hundreds of more hospitalizations they could have faced so far. According to data compiled by Oregon Health & Science University, more than 8 in 10 people in Oregon continue to report wearing masks in public settings.
State health officials said they would consider lifting the general indoor mask requirement earlier than March 31, if hospitalizations decline to the levels projected by the end of March sooner than expected.
In the meantime, while the virus continues to circulate in communities, health experts strongly recommend that people in the following high-risk groups continue to wear masks in indoor public settings after the requirement has been lifted:
- High risk of COVID-19 hospitalizations, including people with underlying health conditions and people who are 65 and older
- Living with people at high risk
Once requirements are lifted, employers and businesses may continue to establish their own mask requirements to protect employees and customers.
A new indoor mask rule will be filed today with the Oregon Secretary of State to preserve the authority of state officials to issue an indoor mask requirement in the future should it be needed for public safety. The new filing was the only way health officials could extend the current temporary mask rule past its expiration date and until mask requirements would no longer be needed to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission, save lives and prevent the Omicron crisis from further overwhelming Oregon’s health care system.