PORTLAND — As COVID-19 cases in Oregon continue to decrease health officials announced Tuesday, Nov. 23 they are immediately lifting statewide mask requirements in crowded outdoor settings.
Oregon was the first state in the U.S. to reimplement an outdoor mask mandate for both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents in August as the delta variant spread.
At the time, Oregon was in the midst of its worst surge during the pandemic. Record daily COVID-19 cases were set day after day and hospitalizations overwhelmed the health system. A majority of people hospitalized were unvaccinated.
However, over the past six weeks health officials say Oregon’s daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have steadily declined. Last week, cases decreased by 12% from the previous week.
“We took decisive measures. And, as has been the case over the course of this pandemic, Oregonians resoundingly responded,” Director Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said Tuesday. “Together we have managed to turn back the tsunami of new infections that very nearly swamped our health care system.”
Oregon has had some of the strictest statewide coronavirus-related restrictions and safety measures during the pandemic.
Gov. Kate Brown reopened the state in July, weeks behind most other states. But in August, as cases and hospitalizations surged, officials announced a reimplementation of many restrictions.
While the outdoor mask mandate has been lifted — which included large outdoor events where physical distancing is not possible, such as festivals and concerts — other safety measures are still in effect.
Oregon has a statewide indoor mask mandate for all public settings — including grocery stores, restaurants, schools and gyms — regardless of a person’s vaccination status.
“I think the best guidance that we can provide is that people should expect to continue to be wearing masks indoors for some time, certainly into next year,” Allen said.
Lindsey McDowell, public information and communications coordinator for the Baker School District, said the ending of the outdoor mask mandate will have little effect on Baker schools.
The district has been requiring students and staff to wear masks outdoors only when six feet of social distancing could not be maintained, according to a press release from the district.
And winter sports, which start next week, are all indoors.
On Tuesday, officials also announced that they are introducing test-to-stay protocol for students this week. The protocol means that after an exposure to COVID-19 at school, most unvaccinated students will be able to stay in school if they are asymptomatic and have two negative tests over a five- to seven-day period.
Students would be asked to quarantine at home, however, during the seven-day period in which the two tests would be conducted.
McDowell said it’s not clear how many Baker students would have qualified for the test-to-stay protocols this school year had it been in place earlier.
But she said it would be a relatively small number, since only those students who might have been exposed to the virus at school would be eligible.
Officials from the school district and the Baker County Health Department have said that there’s no evidence COVID-19 has been spreading in schools, and that most students and staff who have been infected likely were exposed outside school.
“Baker School District leadership met with representatives from the Baker County Health Department earlier today (Tuesday, Nov. 23) to discuss the new guidance and how to coordinate the implementation of Test to Stay,” according to the district’s press release.
“In conjunction with the other health and safety protocols we follow, we are thankful for a Test to Stay option that will help us keep students and staff in school and maximize learning while we continue to work through the pandemic,” Baker School Superintendent Mark Witty said.
The most recently weekly outbreak report from the Oregon Health Authority, dated Nov. 17, listed these cases in Baker schools:
• Baker High School, one student, onset date of Nov. 9
• Brooklyn Primary School, five students, one staff, most recent onset Nov. 9
• Baker Early Learning Center, two students, most recent onset Nov. 1
Jayson Jacoby of the Baker City Herald contributed to this story.