Mask mandates lifted as OHA updates guidelines


Photo courtesy of Atticus Chames.

Atticus Chames, Staff Writer

Oregon, California and Washington jointly lifted indoor mask requirements last Saturday, March 12, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates declined to pre-Omicron numbers. The move came as a surprise when Gov. Kate Brown revealed in an announcement on Feb. 28 that state officials would change the lift date for the third time. 

Initially, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) stated in a press release that indoor mask requirements would be lifted on March 31. However, feedback from school districts across the state suggested that the transition could be completed much earlier. On Feb. 24, OHA released an updated bulletin stating that mask requirements would be lifted on March 19. Then, just four days later in a surprise move, state officials announced that the mandates would be lifted after 11:59 pm March 11.

“COVID-19 does not stop at state borders or county lines,” Brown said in a statement. “On the West Coast, our communities and economies are linked. Together, as we continue to recover from the Omicron surge, we will build resiliency and prepare for the next variant and the next pandemic.”

State and federal requirements, such as those for health care settings, public transit and other specialized settings will remain in place for the time being.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), although hospitalization rates are projected to fall, the only low-risk counties in Oregon are Malheur and Grant. Most are currently at high risk of infection, particularly in the southern half of the state. 

“COVID-19 is still present in Oregon, and we must remain vigilant. We must continue to get vaccinated and boosted, wear masks when necessary and stay home when sick. That is the only way we can achieve our shared goals of saving lives and keeping our schools, businesses and communities open,” Brown said in an announcement. 

On Feb. 24, Brown stated that she would be lifting Oregon’s COVID-19 emergency declaration, effective April 1. According to Liz Merah, one of Brown’s spokespeople, this date will not change.

“As we learn to live with this virus, we must remain vigilant to protect each other and prevent disruption to our schools, businesses and communities––with a focus on protecting our most vulnerable and the people and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” Brown said.