Mask

SALEM — Oregon will drop its indoor mask mandate on March 11, more than a week earlier than announced last week.

Gov. Kate Brown said Monday morning, Feb. 28, that Oregon, California and Washington would lift their mandates simultaneously at 11:59 p.m. March 11. The new date includes ending mask mandates in schools. The order will affect over 51.2 million people from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, about 15% of the national population.

The move comes on the two-year anniversary of the first case of COVID-19 reported in Oregon, on Feb. 28, 2020, in Washington County. Working with California and Washington was crucial to having a unified timeline for the change in mask policy, Brown said.

“As has been made clear time and again over the last two years, COVID-19 does not stop at state borders or county lines,” Brown said in a statement. “On the West Coast, our communities and economies are linked. Together, as we continue to recover from the omicron surge, we will build resiliency and prepare for the next variant and the next pandemic.”

The move by the three states comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last week called for new guidelines to determine risk that would allow for the loosening of restrictions for 70% of the country’s population where coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. However, the map released by the CDC showed much of eastern, central and southwestern Oregon remained in the 30% of population areas that remain at high risk.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued similar statements Monday morning with the same date and time for dropping indoor mask mandates.

The new date is the second time in two weeks that health officials have moved up the date for lifting mask mandates.

Brown had originally said that the mask mandate would end March 31, about when Oregon Health & Science University projected the state would drop below 400 daily patients in hospitals who were positive for COVID-19.

The decline in omicron-related severe cases accelerated and the date was moved last week to March 19. But on Thursday, OHSU issued a forecast showing Oregon would dip below the 400-mark by March 12. The next OHSU forecast is due Thursday.

OHA said the lifting of the mask mandate did not include changes to federal and state rules on masks in health care settings, airline flights, public transit, and other specialized setting. Updates will be provided in coming days and weeks.

Brown’s statement on Monday did not change her plan to lift the state of emergency earlier than April 1, the date she announced last week. The emergency rules gave Brown wide powers to set public policy during the crisis, including the closing and reopening of in-person classroom instruction, business hours, mask usage and limits on event sizes.

The three West Coast states have sought to coordinate on COVID-19 response throughout the pandemic, though they have gone their own way at times, such as the vaccine priority list in early 2021. Brown said the governors believed the mask mandate change was best done at the same time for the stretch from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.

“Our communities and economies are linked,” Brown said.

Brown underlined that the move did not mean the pandemic was burning out or nearly over.

“We will build resiliency and prepare for the next variant and the next pandemic,” she said. “As we learn to live with this virus, we must remain vigilant to protect each other and prevent disruption to our schools, businesses, and communities — with a focus on protecting our most vulnerable and the people and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”

Oregon officials say they are confident that the move will not replicate the premature lifting of safeguards in July 2021 that came almost simultaneously with the arrival of the virulent delta variant that caused a record 918 deaths in September. Critics said at that time that lifting the ban statewide did not take into effect the wide differences in vaccination rates and prior COVID-19 exposure.

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