SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that she is expanding the state’s current COVID-19 mask order to also apply to children as young as 5 and that she is decreasing the allowed capacity of indoor venues from 250 people to 100.
The governor said these new mandates, which go into effect Friday, are necessary to help slow the increasing spread of coronavirus. On Tuesday, the total number of confirmed and presumptive virus cases in the state topped 15,000.
“When we see the numbers rise, we must respond,” Brown said.
Currently, anyone who is 12 years or older must wear masks inside public spaces and in outdoor areas where they can not stay six feet away from others. The mandate will now apply to anyone 5 years or older.
“These younger children can be infected by COVID-19. These younger children live with families,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, epidemiologist for the Oregon State Health Authority.
In conjunction with the mask expansion, Oregon’s Department of Education announced that students will be required to wear face coverings during in-person instruction if they return to the classroom in the fall. The department will distribute 5 million face coverings to school districts for students and employees to wear to help with the new requirement.
Brown said state health and education officials are working together to draft “clear metrics” for school boards on reopening. The governor said the metrics will be released this week.
“One thing is very clear: School in the fall will not look like a normal year,” Brown said.
In addition to the new statewide restrictions, Brown announced the allowed capacity of indoor venues in Oregon, such as bars, restaurants, gyms, churches and movie theaters, will be decreased from 250 people to 100 people.
Lastly, restaurants and bars across the state will be required to close at 10 p.m. rather than 12 a.m.
“The steps Gov. Brown announced today build on previous measures she has announced in recent weeks,” Sidelinger said. “These measures are designed to slow community spread and address hot spots.”
Although Brown announced added safety measures, there is one mandate that is loosening. The state is starting to allow outdoor visits to residents at long-term care facilities that have no COVID-19 cases.
The Oregon Health Authority reported 264 new confirmed coronvirus cases Wednesday and two new deaths, raising the total number of cases in the state since the start of the pandemic to 15,353. The state’s death toll is 271 people.
Sidelinger said many of the new cases are sporadic or community-spread — “meaning the virus is circulating more than we hoped.”
In addition, Brown said there has been an increase in cases connected to tourism. As a result, she is considering restricting travel into Oregon when tourists are coming from states with high infection rates and requiring mandatory quarantine for people traveling from known COVID-19 hot spots.
“I will be taking action to address this soon, and my office is talking to neighboring states about this issue,” Brown said.
Sidelinger said although hospitalizations continue to rise, they are not doing so at the same rate as new infections, in part because there are more cases among younger people who tend to experience milder symptoms of COVID-19.
Nearly 40% of the state’s cases are people in their 20s and 30s.
“Today, Oregon hospitals continue to have an adequate number of ICU beds and ventilators to treat people with severe COVID-19 illness,” Sidelinger said. “But, we can’t ignore the looming danger — if left unchecked, we’re on a trajectory to overwhelm our health care system with cases in the future.”
For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.