Oregon will scrap its mask mandate for indoor public places and schools by March 31, the Oregon Health Authority announced on Monday.
Citing declining COVID-19 infections in the state, health officials said it is expected that by late March, 400 or fewer Oregonians would be hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
“The evidence from Oregon and around the country is clear: masks save lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19,” state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said in a statement. “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.”
Health officials forecast that by late March, the level of COVID-19 hospitalizations would return to what the state experienced before the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus began to spread.
The Oregon Health Authority and Department of Human Services also said Monday that state health officials said they would consider lifting the indoor mask mandate earlier than March 31, if hospitalizations decline to the levels projected to the end of March sooner than expected.
School districts, however, will have mask requirements lifted on March 31 regardless of the level of COVID-19 hospitalizations, to give school districts time to prepare.
Sidelinger said that after the mask mandate is scrapped, individual businesses and schools can independently choose whether to enforce mask-wearing.
“Going forward, after March 31, you need to look at what conditions are like on the ground,” he said.
State health officials said they strongly recommend high-risk individuals continue wearing masks in indoor public settings after mask requirements are lifted, including people who are unvaccinated, immunocompromised, at high risk of COVID-19 hospitalization, including those with underlying health conditions and those 65 and older, and those living with people at high risk.
The state’s temporary indoor mask mandate rule, which was put in place in August amid a surge in cases largely fueled by the Delta variant, was set to expire on Feb. 8. The Oregon Health Authority will now issue a new temporary rule on mask requirements.
The White House, meanwhile, continues to back masking in schools as a growing number of states are moving to scrap mandates.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that wearing masks in schools “still remains our recommendation.”
“Our advice to every school district is to abide by public health guidelines,” Psaki said. “It continues to be at this point that the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is advising that masks can delay and reduce transmission. … It’s always been up to local school districts to determine how they implement.”
According to Burbio’s school mask policy tracker, which looks at the top 500 mask policy trends, as of Feb. 7, masks are required in roughly 60 percent of school districts—down from 73 percent on Oct. 8.