Oregon to lift indoor mask requirements next month, what happens now?

SOUTHERN OREGON, —The end appears to be within sight for mask requirements in Oregon. The state is lifting the general mask requirements for indoor public places no later than March 31st.

“We’re announcing the extension of masks as well as what the endpoint is for masks together so that people can make decisions,” said state epidemiologist, Dr. Dean Sidelinger.

But health officials say Oregon needs to keep mask requirements in place for now, as hospitalizations crest with large volumes of patients. On Monday, the Oregon Health Authority filed a new rule with the Oregon Secretary of State, to require people to wear masks, while indoors in public places. The new rule replaces a temporary rule that expires Tuesday.

“Having these requirements in place for the next several weeks is important as we get case rates back down, return to a level where hospitals are better able to care for patients without the strain they are feeling now,” said Dr. Sidelinger.

Locally, Asante had 99 Covid patients across its three hospitals Tuesday morning. Sky Lakes Medical Center was at capacity Tuesday with 30 Covid patients. Health officials expect about 400 or fewer Oregonians, would be hospitalized with Covid by late March.  The OHA says that’s the level of hospitalizations the state saw before the Omicron variant.

“From our perspective, we did need to start looking at how can society function in a way that’s a little closer to normal while still protecting those who need it,” said Klamath County Public Health Director, Jennifer Little.

Little agrees with the decision to lift the mandate down the road.  However, the decision also brings concern.

“We don’t want our hospitals to be overwhelmed whether it’s for Covid or for a host of other things,” said Little.

Despite this, Little says the decision is necessary and a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, health experts strongly recommend high-risk individuals continue wearing masks in indoor public settings, even after the mask requirements are lifted.  Once requirements are lifted, employers and businesses may continue to set their own mask requirements, to protect employees and customers. The OHA says the rules regarding masks in healthcare settings, will remain the same and does not lift on March 31st.

NBC5 News Reporter Jenna King is a Burbank native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sports Business. During her time at the U of O, she was part of the student-run television station, Duck TV. She also grew her passion for sports through interning with the PAC 12 Network. When Jenna is not in the newsroom you can find her rooting for her hometown Dodgers, exploring the outdoors, or binging on the latest Netflix release.
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