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Oregon will lift mask mandate in early April for health care settings

Nancy Bee, nurse manager of the Salem Health emergency department, discusses the COVID-19 patient numbers at the hospital in this file photo from Jan. 27, 2022.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Nancy Bee, nurse manager of the Salem Health emergency department, discusses the COVID-19 patient numbers at the hospital in this file photo from Jan. 27, 2022.

The Oregon Health Authority is lifting the last major mask mandate designed to fight the spread of COVID-19 — the one covering doctor’s offices and other health care settings.

Health regulators announced on Friday that the mask requirement for workers, patients and visitors to health care settings such as hospitals, dentist’s offices, urgent care centers and school nurses’ offices, will expire on April 3. Authorities in Washington state on Friday also announced the same end date for their mask mandate in health care settings.

The Oregon mandate has been in place since August 2021.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state epidemiologist, said in a press conference on Friday that the decision was based on data showing recent decreases in the three respiratory pathogens that led to a surge in people needing treatment last fall.

“The circulation of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, has gone way down, and we’re continuing to see downward trends in our COVID-19 numbers,” Sidelinger said. “So I think this is the right time to, to repeal this rule.”

He said the monthlong window before the mandate goes away gives health care providers time to adjust and establish any policies they believe are needed to keep patients and employees safe.

Some health care settings may decide to continue requiring masks even after the statewide requirements are lifted, Sidelinger said. A reporter asked whether that could lead to confrontations involving patients who refuse to follow a clinic’s individual masking policy.

“We would ask our healthcare partners to handle that in the same way that they do now ... offer them a mask [and] educate them about the need to wear a mask,” Sidelinger said.

The announcement comes days after the third anniversary of the first detected case of COVID-19 in Oregon, which occurred on Feb. 28, 2020.

Alex Skog, a physician at Providence Willamette Falls and the president of the Oregon chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said he thinks now is a good time to drop the mandate since respiratory illness numbers are low.

“I want to make sure that during the next pandemic or the next time we need assistance from the public in keeping everyone safe, that there’s still that trust that we are only asking the public to inconvenience themselves because it’s absolutely critical to both their health as well as the health of health care workers,” Skog said.

Material from the Associated Press is included in this report.

Anna Griffin
April Ehrlich began freelancing for Jefferson Public Radio in the fall of 2016, and then officially joined the team as its Morning Edition Host and a Jefferson Exchange producer in August 2017.
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