State announces mask mandate to be lifted by the end of March

Masks would no longer be required indoors soon, the Oregon Health Authority said on Monday, Feb. 7. (The Enterprise/File photo)

UPDATE: This story has been updated with comments from Alisha McBride, superintendent of the Vale School District, and Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe.

The days of being required to wear mask indoors, including for children at school, are expected to end next month with an announcement Monday from the Oregon Health Authority.

The state agency said that the mask mandate would be lifted by no later than March 31, with the exact date based on expected declines in hospitalizations.

Masks are required in most indoor settings, such as grocery stores and entertainment venues. School employees and children are also required to be masked while inside school buildings.

“Oregon’s comparatively strong compliance with mask rules and its high vaccination and booster rates have blunted the Omicron surge and – for now – prevented Oregon’s hospitals from breaking under potentially hundreds of more hospitalizations they could have faced so far,” the agency said in its statement.

Vale School District Superintendent Alisha McBride said compliance with the mask mandate in the district has, for the most part, been good.

“We worked through some challenges in the fall but overall we’ve had pretty good compliance,” said McBride.

“The evidence from Oregon and around the country is clear: masks save lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist. “We should see COVID-19 hospitalizations drop by the end of March because so many Oregonians are wearing masks and taking other steps to protect themselves and each other, such as getting a booster shot or vaccinating their children. At that point, it will be safer to lift mask requirements.”

Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director, said Oregon Health Authority modeling shows the Covid pandemic could be on the wane by March.

“It is still important people are following precautions right now but we are looking forward to being out of the surge and having more immunity in the community,” said Poe.

The agency said about 1,000 Oregonians are hospitalized for treatment of Covid and that is expected to drop to 400 by the end of the March. The count has strained hospitals throughout the state, prompting a second mobilization of the Oregon National Guard and the hiring of costly “traveling nurses” from out of state.

This story will be updated.