Indoor masking recommendation returns as COVID case numbers rise again

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When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic it feels a bit like Groundhog Day anymore.

Just a few weeks after the State of Oregon lifted its long-standing business restrictions, mask mandate and other safety measures on June 30, rapidly rising case rates led the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to issue a new recommendation on July 27 urging universal mask use in public indoor settings.

The move came the same day as the number of reported COVID cases in Oregon rose above 1,000 for the first time since April. It was followed a day later in California by a similar recommendation for indoor masking by the California Department of Public Health. Washington state’s top epidemiologist also issued an indoor mask recommendation on July 23. 

Dr. Dean Sidelinger

“Today’s reported sharp rise in cases and hospitalizations in Oregon are sobering reminders that the pandemic is not over, especially for Oregonians who remain unvaccinated,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist and state health officer. “The highly contagious Delta variant has increased tenfold in the past two weeks in Oregon, and it is now estimated to be associated with 80% of the new cases in Oregon. The use of face masks provides significant protection for individuals who are unvaccinated as well as an additional level protection from a small but known risk of infection by the virus for persons who have already been vaccinated.”

Washington County Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Mary Sawyers said county health officials are watching the situation closely in case further action is needed beyond recommendations. 

Mary Sawyers

“I think it is becoming a concern, it’s happening very fast,” she said. “OHA said in the last two weeks the Delta variant has increased tenfold and is responsible for 80 percent of cases, and if you look at our daily case count in the last two weeks you can see it’s jumping up every day. It’s starting to be a concern to everyone in the county.” 

Sawyers said the important thing is to continue to urge unvaccinated people to get vaccinated and continue efforts to allow that to happen. This includes use of a mobile vaccination clinic that is currently traveling around the county. It will make a stop at Atfalati Park in Tualatin on Aug. 14. 

“The key message Is not necessarily about the masks, the key message is, people who are unvaccinated should get vaccinated,” Sawyers said. “We are up around almost 76 percent in Washington County, but that leaves 24 to 25 percent of the population of adults who haven’t been vaccinated and 12 and under can’t get vaccinated. You’re protecting people who choose not to get vaccinated, people who don’t have access to vaccinations and children.” 

The OHA announcement came just one day after the Tualatin City Council voted to formally end the state of emergency it enacted last spring at the start of the pandemic. Mayor Frank Bubenik said the main reason for the state of emergency was to allow the city to provide economic assistance to business owners and residents. 

“The state of emergency allowed the council to approve my moratorium on commercial and residential evictions and allowed me the ability to issue public safety and health orders related to the COVID-19 emergency,” Bubenik said. “The federal and state government are (now) handling the moratoriums and the counties are issuing guidance on masking and the city will be following their lead. If there comes a time where the council feels any of these three levels of government are mishandling the pandemic response, we will act quickly.” 

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