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Oregon health officials lift rule requiring masks in crowds outdoors

Wesley DeCastro wears a button and sticker after his vaccination Nov. 10, 2021, in Happy Valley, Ore.
Wesley DeCastro wears a button and sticker after his vaccination Nov. 10, 2021, in Happy Valley, Ore.

The Oregon Health Authority announced Tuesday that it is rescinding the state’s mandate requiring people to wear masks in crowded outdoor settings. Officials said the rule is no longer necessary, based on recent efforts to control the spread of COVID-19.

“This decision, which takes effect immediately, reflects the overall progress we have seen on the COVID-19 front here in Oregon,” Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen said in a statement. “And it is a testament to the perseverance of all Oregonians in faithfully adopting the public health interventions we know are effective in containing the spread of the disease.”

Allen said the suspension of the rule doesn’t forbid mask-wearing, and he said wearing masks is still “strongly recommended” for people at higher risk from the disease, such as people who are elderly, immunocompromised, or those who haven’t been vaccinated. In addition, Allen said wearing masks is also still recommended for people in crowded, outdoor settings for an extended period.

Allen points to data showing steep declines in new COVID-19 cases, including a 64% drop in the weekly average between September and November.

“Together we have managed to turn back the tsunami of new infections that very nearly swamped our health care system,” Allen said.

However, the virus is still a significant enough threat that the state health authority is not suggesting people put their masks away entirely.

“Although the COVID-19 landscape is markedly improved, we are not yet at a point where we can consider relaxing the guidance on wearing masks in indoor public settings,” Allen said.

Allen noted that hospitalizations remain high with daily numbers “at or near the peaks of previous COVID-19 surges.”

Allen, along with state health officer and epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger and Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill, were scheduled to discuss this change and other COVID-19 developments in a media briefing at 11 a.m. Tuesday. Watch here:

This story will be updated after the media briefing.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.