Screenshot from Feb. 28 press conference

Oregon to Remove Indoor Mask Requirement

Joint decision with West Coast states starts 11:59 pm March 11

When you wake up on March 12, wearing masks indoors throughout the West Coast will no longer be required. 

The decision has been moved up three times, but Oregon Health Authority says the state’s COVID-19 trends indicate its hospitals won’t be overwhelmed by cases, so the state will lift its indoor mask requirement. Oregon joins Washington state and California with removing the policy, which applies to school districts and public places except where federal law applies and puts the decision making to require masks at the local level.

“Rapidly declining COVID-19 hospitalizations along the West Coast indicate statewide mask requirements can safely be lifted earlier than we had previously announced,” Director of Oregon Department of Education Colt Gill said at a Feb. 28 press conference. “It reflects new modeling at the state level in addition to the CDC new guidance on mask requirements on Friday.” 

Removing the indoor mask requirement goes into effect 11:59 pm Friday, March 11. Making the announcement today gives the community time to prepare for the change, Gill said. 

Initially, the indoor mask requirement was to be lifted at the end of March, which was then moved up to March 19. 

In May 2021, the CDC announced that masks weren’t required for those who were fully vaccinated, a policy that Oregon followed. An indoor mask policy was reinstated when the Delta variant hit the U.S. in July 2021.

During the Omicron surge, OHA’s state epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said the state’s COVID-19 hospitalization rates were in a dire place. At its peak, the Omicron variant saw 1,130 Oregonians hospitalized on Jan. 27. On Feb. 28, the state reported 479 hospitalized positive cases. He said the state’s hospital cases could dip to pre-Omicron levels by the week of March 7. 

Under the CDC’s Feb. 25 guidance, masks would be required in many Oregon counties, including Lane. Sidelinger said the CDC doesn’t have the hospitalization data that OHA has, which indicates the indoor mask requirement can be lifted. 

Sidelinger said that with the combination of available vaccines and people recovering from Delta and Omicron COVID variants, the state’s hospitals shouldn’t be overwhelmed. 

The West Coast states announced the decision on the two-year anniversary of Oregon’s first positive COVID-19 case at an elementary school in Lake Oswego, Gill said. 

Masks will still be required where federal law applies, including public transit, health care and other settings. 

The state’s lifting on the indoor mask requirement isn’t the only COVID-19 policy changes happening. Gov. Kate Brown said she will lift her emergency declaration on April 1. Brown’s emergency declaration has provided the state with flexibility and resources for the state’s COVID response and recovery efforts, such as professional health licensing and enhanced SNAP food benefits, according to a Feb. 24 press release. 

The University of Oregon announced Feb. 25 that it will no longer require proof of vaccination or negative test result to attend events on campus. The UO’s indoor mask policy is still in effect for classes and other indoor business, regardless of vaccination status, as of Feb. 25. UO spokesperson Saul Hubbard tells Eugene Weekly that the university if reviewing the latest federal, state and local guidance to determine how it will update its mask requirements. 

According to Lane Community College’s COVID protocols, masks are required regardless of vaccination status. 

At the Feb. 28 press conference, Sidelinger said that Oregonians should be patient with each other as it lifts the indoor policy. Some will stop wearing masks and some will continue to wear them, he said, “but we need to support each other in our choices.”

This article has been updated.