SALEM, Ore. — People in Oregon age 5 and older are now required to wear masks in indoor public places, regardless of vaccination status. Gov. Kate Brown announced the renewed statewide face mask mandate, which went into effect August 13, during a briefing Wednesday morning. It's part of the state's effort to reduce an increase in hospitalizations amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.
For those riding public transit, the mandate applies to adults and children older than 2. Though the mandate doesn't require masks in crowded outdoor settings, the state still strongly encourages that people wear masks in those situations.
Exceptions are allowed for activities where it would be impractical or impossible to wear a mask, for example, while eating or drinking; during swimming and organized, competitive sports; and for performances involving singing or speaking in public.
"The latest science is clear that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals are able to spread the delta variant," Brown said. "Masks are simple and they are effective. Wearing a mask should give you confidence that you are not infecting others."
The governor's office said Oregon OSHA will play a role in enforcement of the mask mandate for employers and employees. OSHA will work with businesses that are attempting to comply and won't conduct inspections or issue fines initially while businesses start implementation of masking protocols.
On Wednesday, Oregon set a new pandemic record for hospitalizations, according to Oregon Health Authority (OHA) director Pat Allen. There were 665 people with coronavirus in the hospital, which surpasses the previous record of 635 set on Tuesday.
"Across Oregon, many hospitals have been forced to postpone procedures because COVID-19 has filled so many beds with severely ill patients that they don't have the staff to perform procedures that people need, but hospitals can safely delay," Allen said.
OHA reported that nearly 100% of new cases are linked to the delta variant. According to Oregon Health & Science University, 30% of patients in intensive care units across Oregon are COVID-19 patients, the highest the state has seen since the beginning of the pandemic. Health officials said at least 95% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past several months have been unvaccinated.
Brown also announced that Oregon will require all state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18, or six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine receives full FDA approval, whichever is later. Brown encouraged public and private employers to require vaccinations for their employees.
Earlier this week, Multnomah County announced its own face mask mandate, regardless of vaccination status. The county's mandate begins Friday.
"I know Oregonians are tired of wearing masks. I am too," Brown said. "But every time someone wears a mask that's one more unvaccinated kid we're protecting. That mask could keep your best friend or loved one out of the hospital."