By Ben Botkin
The Oregon Health Authority will no longer require workers, patients and visitors in health care settings to wear masks starting April 3, state officials said Friday.
The move comes in response to a drop in hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses and low rates of people testing positive for COVID-19, the health authority said.
The state’s decision will end one of the final and most visible reminders of the pandemic-era restrictions. As the world tried to slow the transmission of COVID-19, the state adopted restrictions on social distancing, closures of restaurants and bars, restaurant seating, vaccinations and masks in all public places.
The lifting of the mandate applies to a variety of settings, including hospitals, mobile clinics, ambulances, outpatient clinics, dental offices, school-based health centers. The statewide mask mandate started in August 2021, though individual facilities have always had the flexibility to have stricter rules.
The decision mirrors what other states have decided, including Washington.
In recent months, the state has seen overall decreases of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist at OHA, said in a statement.
The percentage of people taking a COVID-19 test who have the infection has dropped to 10% and is expected to continue falling; the same rate for influenza is 1.2%. Meanwhile, the rate of positive tests for RSV, a respiratory infection that mainly affects children, is at 3.5% for one specialized tests, state officials said.
By setting an April 3 date, state officials are giving the public and providers time to change policies, training and procedures, they said.
Health care professionals are still required to be vaccinated against COVID, however, as are educators and staff.
Health officials advised people who are at higher risk of catching a respiratory illness and becoming severely ill to continue wearing a mask. Masks help protect people from getting a respiratory infection and spreading it. And health care facilities can continue to maintain a mask requirement if they wish to do so, state officials said.
This story first appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.