PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — People in Oregon, regardless of vaccination status, will once again be required to wear masks in most public outdoor settings — including large outdoor events where physical distancing is not possible — beginning Friday.
The mandate, announced Tuesday by Gov. Kate Brown, is part of a growing list of statewide requirements implemented in Oregon in an attempt to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Oregon is one of a handful of states with an indoor mask mandate in effect. But it’s the first to reinstitute a statewide mask requirement for outdoor public areas where people are close together, according to the governor’s office.
Over the past month, coronavirus cases, fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant, have overwhelmed hospitals in the Pacific Northwest state. On Tuesday, Brown said 1,000 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized, beating the state’s record set the previous day of 937 people.
“The Delta variant is spreading fast and wide, throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic. Cases and hospitalizations are at a record high,” Brown said in a statement. “Masks are a quick and simple tool we can immediately deploy to protect ourselves and our families, and quickly help stop further spread of COVID-19.”
Health officials say part of the reason for the new mandate is that they’re seeing instances where cases are clustering around outdoor events, such as music festivals.
The new mandate requires masks in outdoor settings in which people from different households are unable to consistently maintain physical distance. The rule does not apply to “fleeting encounters,” such as two people walking by each other on a trail or in a park.
While the rule does not apply to outdoor gatherings at private residences with individuals from different households, the Oregon Health Authority strongly recommends that people wear a mask during those scenarios.
Along with mask mandates, the governor has announced that staff and volunteers in K-12 schools, health care workers and state employees are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
Oregon was once described as a success story for limiting the spread of the coronavirus, after its Democratic governor imposed some of the nation’s strictest safety measures. Those restrictions were lifted June 30, and the state is now being hammered by delta variant, which was first detected in India.
On Monday there were just 47 adult intensive care unit beds available in Oregon. Currently more than 90% of the state’s ICU and hospital beds are full. Health officials say the overwhelming majority of people hospitalized are unvaccinated.
Many hospitals have canceled elective surgeries, and some patients are housed in hallways instead of rooms.
Brown has dispatched about 1,500 National Guard troops to hospitals around the state.
Sara Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.