Oregon And Washington Lift Mask Requirements Saturday

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — After spending a majority of the pandemic under statewide indoor face covering requirements, Washington and Oregon will be lifting their mask mandates Saturday — marking a significant step in restoring normalcy.

The milestone, which comes two years after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, is on trend with the rest of the country as public health orders were dropped in droves. Oregon and Washington are among the last states to lift mask requirements.

“We’re turning a page in our fight against the COVID virus,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said during a recent news conference.

Last month — as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations drastically declined, following a surge caused by the omicron variant — Oregon and Washington’s Democratic governors announced that they would be lifting rules requiring masks in indoor public places and schools on March 12.

“Two years ago today, we identified Oregon’s first case of COVID-19,” Oregon Gov. Kate 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.”

Other state and federal mask requirements, including in health care setting and public transit, still exist. In addition health officials continue to recommend that people at higher risk of severe complications of COVID-19 — including those who are unvaccinated — wear masks.

However school districts and local governments have the option to continue requiring masks.

Seattle Public Schools, the state’s largest district with about 50,000 students, says it will lift its COVID-19 mask mandate beginning Monday.

“We are pleased that COVID-19 cases continue to fall in SPS schools and King County,” the district said. “However, there may be times when we will need to bring back effective mitigations if there is an increase in community, classroom, or school-wide transmission.”

In Oregon, Colt Gill the director for the Department of Education Director said that while many schools are immediately lifting mask requirements, others are keeping it through spring break and some are still in “decision making mode.”

Individual businesses, employers and other organizations in Oregon similarly have the option of requiring masks.

Several performance arts venues in Portland — including the Oregon Symphony, Portland Center Stage, Milagro Theatre and The Reser — said they would continue to require face masks and proof of vaccination for audiences after the statewide mandate ends Saturday.

The Portland Trail Blazers and Rose Quarter announced plans earlier this week to do away with their mask and proof of COVID-19 vaccination requirements come Saturday. Fred Meyer will also be dropping its masking requirement.

Mask mandates have been a major point of contention throughout the pandemic with large protests, residents crying government overreach and a plethora of complaints.

The two Pacific Northwest states have had some of the strictest COVID-19 safety measures and restrictions throughout the pandemic — a move that health officials estimate saved thousands of lives.

In Oregon there has been indoor mask requirements since June 2020, with a brief one-month pause last summer. By August, Gov. Brown had reinstituted the mask mandate as the delta variant led to an alarming spike in cases and hospitalizations.

“Last summer we found ourselves in a similar position to radically change our approach to fighting COVID…then we had to confront new variants,” Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state epidemiologist, said during a press conference on Friday. “This time feels different because it is different. We have higher levels of immunity. We have additional treatment.”

And while there’s no immediate indication that statewide mask mandates will return, health officials also aren’t ruling out the option.

“I think as individuals, and as communities, we need to be prepared to take additional steps if the situation changes and we face more variants that cause more severe disease,” Sidelinger said. “But for the time being, we can move forward as individuals and individual communities — making decisions based on the conditions on the ground and the risk factors for those around them.”

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