Health care facilities have been given state approval to drop mask requirements for workers, patients and visitors as of April 3, if they desire to do so, the Oregon Health Authority announced Friday, March 3.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, said during a Friday virtual press briefing that the spread of COVID-19 had been abated enough to allow for the step.
“Indicators are declining significantly,” Sidelinger said of the announcement. “We know we are going to have to live with COVID-19 in the future.”
Sidelinger said that what that contagion might look like after the mandate is lifted and its possible impact on vulnerable communities will be monitored closely.
“We’re facing this decision with some anxiety,” Sidelinger said.
Washington State officials announced Friday that they too would drop the mask mandate April 3.
Ending the mandatory mask rule does not mean that masks are barred from medical, health and other facilities.
Sidelinger said one of the main reasons the mandate will end in a month rather than now is for managers and staff at hospitals, nursing homes and other congregate care facilities to discuss what steps they want to take.
A facility could decide that given its patient profiles, it will still require masks. Individual workers may also decide to continue to wear masks, which is permissible under the change in mandate.
“We did not take this decision to lift this lightly,” Sidelinger said.
The Oregon Health Authority is rescinding provisions in Oregon administrative rules that, since the start of the pandemic, have required workers in health care settings — such as hospitals, mobile clinics, ambulances, outpatient facilities, dental offices, urgent care centers, counseling offices, school-based health centers and complementary and alternative medicine locations — to wear masks.
The requirement has been in effect since August 2021.
In addition, an executive order that gave hospitals flexibility to respond to a surge in respiratory infections — including COVID-19, RSV and influenza — expired on Monday, March 6.
Other states are moving in this direction, OHA officials said.
Lifting the health care mask requirement stems from data in recent weeks that have shown overall decreases in circulation of the three respiratory pathogens that triggered a surge in visits to hospital emergency departments and intensive care units last fall, according to Sidelinger. He said that, as of Friday:
• COVID-19 test positivity is at 10% and is expected to continue dropping.
• Influenza test positivity is at 1.2%.
• RSV test positivity is at 1.6% for one class of testing and 3.5% for another.
Announcing the end of the mask requirement now gives the health care system, local public health authorities and other health partners time to prepare for how they want to implement the change — or keep their policies as they currently stand. That includes adjusting guidelines, training and procedures that ensure patient safety and access to health care.
It also gives members of the public, particularly populations at increased risk of severe disease — communities of color, tribal communities, rural communities, lower-income communities, those with underlying medical conditions, seniors and parents of vulnerable infants — a chance to plan health care visits and protective measures prior to the loosening of restrictions.
People at higher risk for severe disease, or who live with someone at higher risk, should still consider wearing masks in health care or any settings, the agency added.
Masks remain an effective way to reduce transmission of respiratory viruses, the agency added, and Oregonians are strongly encouraged to stay up to date with vaccinations and boosters.
In a related comment, Sidelinger said there were no plans to offer another COVID-19 booster until autumn. A combination COVID-19 and flu shot, that would be administered annually, is under development, but is unlikely to be ready for widespread use this year.
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It is about time. People are over the liberal nanny state mask policy and have been for quite some time. Maybe Kotex, the new liberal governor can relax some of liberal ex governor Brown's communist policies...however, I am not counting on it.
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