Oregon Announces Outdoor Mask Mandate

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -
oregon outdoor mask mandate
(Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

People in Oregon, regardless of vaccination status, will once again be required to wear masks in most public outdoor settings — including large outdoor events where physical distancing is not possible — beginning Friday.

The outdoor mask mandate, which was announced Tuesday by Gov. Kate Brown, is part of a growing list of statewide mandates implemented in Oregon in an attempt to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19. There was already an indoor mask rule in place.

Over the past month, coronavirus cases, fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant, have overwhelmed hospitals in the state.

“The Delta variant is spreading fast and wide, throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic. Cases and hospitalizations are at a record high,” Brown said in a statement. “Masks are a quick and simple tool we can immediately deploy to protect ourselves and our families, and quickly help stop further spread of COVID-19.”

Health officials say part of the reasoning for the new mandate is that they are seeing instances where cases are clustering around outdoor events, such as music festivals.

The new mandate requires masks for all individuals in outdoor settings in which individuals from different households are unable to consistently maintain physical distance. However, the rule does not apply to “fleeting encounters,” such as two people walking by one another on a trail or in a park.

While the rule does not apply to outdoor gatherings at private residences with individuals from different households, the Oregon Health Authority strongly recommends that people wear a mask in those situations.

Currently, anyone who is 5 or older is required to wear a mask in public indoor areas, including grocery stores, businesses, restaurants and gyms.

In addition, the governor has announced that staff and volunteers in K-12 schools, health care workers and state employees are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18

Oregon was once described as a success story for limiting the spread of the coronavirus, after its Democratic governor imposed some of the nation’s strictest safety measures. Those restrictions were lifted June 30, and the state is now being hammered by the delta variant, which was first detected in India.

On Monday there were just 47 adult intensive care unit beds available in Oregon, with 937 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. Currently more than 90% of the state’s ICU and hospital beds are full.

About 1,500 guard troops have been dispatched to hospitals around the state by Brown.