First in the nation, Oregon will require adults and most children regardless of their vaccination status to wear facemasks in outdoor public settings where people are close to each other, starting Friday.
Contrary to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines stating that it is unnecessary to wear masks outdoors, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced the new rule Tuesday, saying masks are a “quick and simple tool we can immediately deploy to protect ourselves and our families,” which “have proven to be effective at bringing case counts down.”
While the rule does not apply to outdoor gatherings at private residences, where people from different households meet and cannot maintain physical distance, the masks are strongly recommended to be used in such settings.
The requirement provides for specific exceptions, “such as two individuals walking by one another on a trail or in a park.”
Additionally, those exempted include children under the age of five; individuals who are eating, drinking, or sleeping; and homeless people. Those playing or practicing competitive sports or engaged in an activity in which it is not feasible to wear a mask, such as swimming, and performers singing or delivering speeches, may forgo masks as well. Oregon’s K-12 schools, where anyone older than two must wear a mask indoors under a separate order the governor issued in July, are not subject to the new outdoor mask rule either.
Governor Brown stated that “the combination of vaccines and masks is the most powerful way we can fight this latest surge of COVID-19 and save lives,” while praising the Pfizer vaccine getting full Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
Oregon is one of the nation’s most vaccinated states, where 65.9 percent of the residents are fully vaccinated, and 71.6 percent have received at least one dose. Yet, despite being heavily vaxxed, the Beaver State has seen a sharp surge in cases, as Brown herself complained about during the announcement of the new requirement. Brown did not mention any breakthrough infections but blamed unvaccinated people for the recent uptick.
State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger praised the outdoor mask mandate, saying people infected with Delta strain “have one thousand times more virus in their nose,” which makes it easier to pass to others. Dr. Sidelinger also remarked that surges in cases are usually linked to major public events, which facilitate the spread of the virus. Sidelinger seemingly referred to the recently reported COVID outbreak at Oregon’s Pendleton Whisky Music Fest, after which 66 out of 1,200 attendees tested positive for COVID. Five of the infected were reportedly fully vaccinated. University of Denver aerosol scientist Alex Huffman remarked at the time that standing beside an infected person long enough — even for 10 minutes — could expose someone to a “tremendous viral load.”
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