Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said Tuesday that the state would restore its outdoor mask mandate in many public settings, the first in the nation to do so amid the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus.
The new rules will apply to all residents older than 5, regardless of vaccination status, and apply to most public spaces where people from different households cannot maintain sufficient physical distance from one another. The policy doesn’t apply to fleeting encounters when people pass each other on the street or a trail, and it doesn’t cover private gatherings. Brown, however, recommended that Oregonians wear masks when gathered at home with visitors from multiple households.
They new rules go into effect on Friday.
“The Delta variant is spreading fast and wide, throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic,” Brown said in a statement, noting the state’s COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were at record highs. “Masks are a quick and simple tool we can immediately deploy to protect ourselves and our families.”
The news comes just two weeks after Brown restored the state’s indoor mask mandate in many public buildings for all residents regardless of vaccination status, saying face coverings were one of the best mechanisms to prevent transmission of the virus, after inoculations.
“If we all do our part, we can beat COVID-19 once and for all, keep our economy open and thriving, and return our kids to the classroom with minimal disruptions in a few weeks,” Brown said at the time.
The delta variant has thrown reopening plans into chaos just a few short months after states around the nation retreated from mask mandates and other social distancing measures amid the widespread use of vaccines. The virus variant, however, is highly transmissible and has led to a surge in cases across the country, straining hospital systems and prompting dire warnings for the unvaccinated.
About half of Oregon’s residents are fully vaccinated, but state health officials have released troubling figures that are growing more dire by the day. Oregon had more than 1,000 people hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and 93% of the state’s intensive care unit beds are full, figures Brown called “terrifying.”
Vaccination remains the best way to prevent severe illness or death associated with COVID-19, and most people admitted to the hospital are unvaccinated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination this week, a key step in the nation’s effort to assure about 90 million eligible Americans that it is safe to get vaccinated.
“The combination of vaccines and masks is the most powerful way we can fight this latest surge of COVID-19 and save lives,” Brown said. “Vaccination continues to be the best way you can protect yourself and your family from the Delta variant, and the most effective way we can help our exhausted nurses and doctors, who are working around the clock to treat Oregonians sick with COVID in our ICUs.”