Oregon will lift mask requirements for indoor public places and Oregon’s schools on March 19, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) announced today, as hospitalizations drop and are projected to reach levels below those at the start of the Omicron surge.
Earlier this month, OHA announced that the general indoor mask requirement would be lifted by March 31, with the option of lifting it sooner if conditions improved enough.
Originally, OHA announced that the K-12 indoor mask rule would lift on March 31. Feedback from school districts around the state indicated that preparations for the transition could be completed earlier.
By that date, it was expected, 400 or fewer people per day in Oregon would be hospitalized with the virus, a level the state experienced prior to the arrival of the Omicron variant. A recent modeling report by Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) predicted the state would reach that total around March 20.
Daily COVID-19 hospitalizations have declined 48% since peaking in late January. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations have fallen by an average of more than 30 a day. Yesterday, there were 579 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state.
Reported COVID-19 infections also have dropped precipitously in recent weeks. Over the past month, new infections have declined by more than 80%. The seven-day moving average for new cases is 84% lower than at the peak of the Omicron surge.
“We are able to take this important step, earlier than anticipated, because of the collective diligence and the shared sacrifice that people in Oregon have demonstrated in getting vaccinated, wearing masks and limiting their gatherings,” said Dean Sidelinger, M.D. MSEd, health officer and state epidemiologist. His videotaped statement is here.
“Based on the feedback from local leaders and communities, OHA and ODE are partnering to develop practical updates to safety protocols for quarantine, contact tracing, and testing that meet the current conditions of the pandemic,” said Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education and deputy superintendent of public instruction.
“These guidelines will continue to support our North Star goal of providing in-person learning for every student, all day, every school day and will focus on specific supports for students, staff, and families that may be at more risk from COVID-19 than others in the school population.”
His videotaped statement is here.
The March 19 date continues to give local communities time to prepare for the transition, and it allows district and school leaders to take necessary actions to ensure students can safely remain in their classrooms.
State officials highly recommend that people in high-risk groups continue to wear masks in indoor public settings even after the restrictions are lifted.
They include people who are at higher risk because they are unvaccinated; immunocompromised; have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of complications; are 65 or older; or who live with someone in one of those categories.
State officials also continue to strongly recommend universal masking in K-12 settings where children are required to attend. Those settings bring together vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, as well as individuals who are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness.