Oregonians may soon face an indefinite indoor mask mandate.

As the expiration of the state’s temporary indoor mask rule draws near, a permanent replacement is under review by state health officials.

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) filed a proposed rulemaking notice Dec. 10 with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, requesting changes to the current rule which expires Feb. 8, 2022.

The proposed permanent rule, if effected, would replace the current 180-day temporary rule with one of “indefinite” duration.

“This is necessary to control COVID-19, reduce hospitalizations and deaths, and provide general health protection to people in Oregon,” the proposed rule change states.

The rule generally applies to all businesses in Oregon. The OHA is also proposing a civil penalty of $500 per person per day for non-compliance with the rule.

In addition, the rule change would grant the Oregon State Public Health Director or the Oregon State Health Officer “the authority to rescind and reinstate all or parts of the rule,” according to the notice.

The rule can be repealed if “on the ground” conditions approve, which are currently not tied to any metrics, according to State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger.

Before the filing, an administrative rules advisory committee met Thursday, Dec. 2 to review the need for the OHA’s proposed rule and receive the input of small businesses and organizations, the notice states.

The proposal comes shortly after the Omicron variant’s arrival to the United States on Dec. 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Through Dec. 8, the OHA reported that 22 U.S. states had detected at least one COVID-19 case attributed to the Omicron variant. Among 43 cases with initial follow-up, one hospitalization and no deaths were reported.

As of Monday, Dec. 13, there were three confirmed cases of Omicron in Oregon.

At a virtual press conference held Friday, Dec. 17, Gov. Kate Brown reaffirmed the importance of responsible masking practices amid news of the new variant.

“As Omicron is spreading, more states are starting to follow Oregon’s lead in reinstating mask requirements,” she said. “Thank you to every Oregonian who continues to mask up. You are making a difference.”

“Science shows that masks work,” OHA Lead Communications Officer Jonathan Modie told The Chronicle. “They save lives. That’s why OHA issued the temporary rule requiring indoor mask use and why OHA plans to issue the permanent rule with this requirement.”

Modie said the OHA’s decision to move forward with the proposal was data-based.

“OHA reviewed several studies related to COVID-19 transmission and masking, including national data on the effectiveness of masks in preventing the transmission of the virus,” Modie said. “OHA continues to monitor scientific data with regard to masking and control of COVID-19.”

Data from the CDC shows a 1-2% reduction in COVID case growth and death rates associated with state-issued mask mandates in a study of 2,313 U.S. counties up to 81-100 days after implementation.

Oregon is one of eight states to retain a mask mandate nearly two years into the pandemic, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

Modie said the OHA’s approach is to continue to look at the impact of the virus on Oregonians and Oregon’s health care system.

“And make recommendations based on what we see on the ground, and either increase control of the pandemic because things are getting worse or relax the current precautions we have in place because the disease rate has gone down significantly,” he said. “We want hospitals to be at a point where they are able to handle the volume of patients they see from COVID-19 and other conditions without needing the tremendous additional staffing they have in order to provide that quality of care to all Oregonians.”

Members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposal, according to Modie.

The OHA is accepting comments on the proposed rule until Jan. 24, and a public hearing will be conducted Jan. 20 from 10 a.m. to noon. The location of that meeting was pending at press time.

Email publichealth.rules@dhsoha.state.or.us to be added to the interested parties list and to submit a comment.


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