Oregon to resume indoor mask mandate statewide, says Governor Kate Brown

Gov. Kate Brown announced on Tuesday that residents of Oregon will be required to begin wearing masks in all indoor public spaces, regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status – a move that comes as the pandemic spirals out of control and that new projections show COVID-19 hospitalizations could nearly double by September from today’s record numbers.

Brown did not specify a date for the term of office to take effect, but she is expected to share more details at a press conference on Wednesday.

Brown also announced Tuesday that starting October 18, she will require all state employees in the executive branch – which excludes the state legislature and the judiciary – proof of full immunization status, except for religious or medical reasons. .

The governor’s announcement came the day Oregon set a new record for people hospitalized for COVID-19, at 635, including a record 164 in intensive care. The total number of hospitalizations soared to 60 overnight and easily surpassed November’s record of 584.

Despite growing criticism from some, the governor has repeatedly resisted the reinstatement of a statewide mask mandate over the past month, saying she left the decision to the local leaders of the 36 counties of Oregon and that she was confident they would take the necessary COVID-19 precautions. for their individual communities.

But only one county – Multnomah – announced a mask mandate from Friday. This lack of action by Brown and across Oregon came about when the delta variant took hold, with the seven-day average of known new infections increasing eight-fold and the number of hospital patients increasing six-fold in the past. during the last month or so.

On Wednesday, Brown said she couldn’t wait any longer – despite the masks’ enormous unpopularity among many residents tired of COVID.

“Oregon is facing an increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations – – comprised predominantly of unvaccinated individuals – – rapidly overtaking the darker days of our winter wave,” Brown said in a written statement Wednesday. “When our hospitals are full, there will be no room for additional patients in need of care – whether for COVID-19, a heart attack or stroke, a car collision or a variety of others. emergency situations. If our hospitals run out of staffed beds, all Oregonians will be at risk. “

Brown continued, “After a year and a half of this pandemic, I know Oregonians are tired of the health and safety restrictions. This new mask requirement won’t last forever, but it’s a step that can save lives right now. “

While a small but growing number of U.S. cities or counties have recently announced universal mask warrants, such requirements are even rarer among states. Oregon will join Louisiana, which instituted a statewide mask rule last week, and Nevada, where the governor has said residents of high-transmission counties must cover up.

On the other hand, the idea of ​​masks after nearly 18 months of pandemic is offensive to some. As of last week, at least nine states – Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas – have banned or limited mask warrants, according to the New York Times. The governor of Arkansas, however, recently said he regrets enacting an anti-mask bill months ago because he wants school districts to have the ability to demand masks.

In Oregon, after weeks of grim projections, Brown was motivated to act after seeing an even more dire forecast from Oregon Health & Science University predicting 1,100 COVID-19 patients hospitalized by mid-September – if an important measure such as a mask warrant is not resurrected. On June 30, Brown lifted nearly all coronavirus restrictions, including mask requirements in most public spaces.

At the time, the new known daily cases had fallen to around 200 per day and nearly 70% of adults had been partially vaccinated. About 50% of Oregon’s population of all ages had been fully immunized. This has increased slightly since then to around 55%. In order to eradicate the virus, many experts say that 85% or more of the population must be fully vaccinated or have strong protection against natural infection, which can be difficult without getting vaccinated because natural immunity can vary greatly from person to person.

Brown said she hoped Oregon’s legislative and judiciary leaders were demanding their all as well. employees to get vaccinated. But already, some state employees were pushing back the vaccination obligation that the governor will impose on them in the fall.

One of the state’s largest public sector employee unions, SEIU 503, immediately announced that it was fighting against the governor’s mandate and called for the reopening of collective bargaining “on the impacts of the mandate on vaccines ”so he can put pressure on a wide range of work-related issues, including higher wages. for some workers and vaccine exemptions broader than the medical and religious reasons listed by the governor, according to a press release. The union has just finished negotiating a two-year contract that includes a 5.6% cost of living increase and, following negotiations with another union, all state employees who have required to work in person during the pandemic will receive one-time “COVID Risk Payments” up to $ 1,550.

But Brown said his double plan of masks and vaccinations was desperately needed now.

“There are two keys to saving lives,” said Brown. “Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your family from serious illness, hospitalization and death. And, by wearing masks, all of us, vaccinated and unvaccinated, can help ensure that a hospital bed staffed with healthcare professionals is available for our loved ones when needed. If we all do our part, we can defeat COVID-19 once and for all, keep our economy open and thriving, and get our kids back to class with minimal disruption in a matter of weeks. “

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– Aimée Verte; [email protected]; @o_aimee

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