Oregon governor lays out new face mask rules as critics debate consequences

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Starting on Friday, Oregonians ages five and up will have to wear masks indoors at almost all times, Gov. Kate Brown has announced.

Those conditions are part of two new health mandates issued by the governor on Wednesday, including new masking rules and required vaccinations for state executive branch staff.

Riding public transit will also have everyone ages two and older mask up, Brown clarified during a virtual Wednesday news briefing. Crowded outdoor settings will not require face masks, but they would be strongly encouraged to mask up nevertheless. Swimming, eating, drinking, singing or other activities which must be performed without a mask are all exceptions to the new rules.

On Wednesday, the governor’s office said that Oregon OSHA would be enforcing the rules in due time while businesses hang the appropriate signage and make other arrangements.

Brown did not say how long the new rules will last, saying once again that the pandemic will set the timeline.

“We continue to work to reach Oregonians with information and a vaccine, but it’s clear the current situation requires immediate action to stop the Delta variant from spreading further,” Brown said. “That’s why, moving forward for the immediate future, masks will be required in all indoor public settings.”

The new rules follow a steady surge in new cases and hospitalizations statewide as COVID-19 and its more infectious delta variant spread among primarily unvaccinated individuals. On Wednesday, Oregon filled more hospital beds with COVID patients than at any prior time during the pandemic—665 people—or 30 more than on Tuesday.

State Rep. Lisa Reynolds, D-Portland, called Brown’s new order “what leadership looks like” on Twitter. Others disagreed.

“[It’s] not leadership when you have to be dragged kicking and screaming to act,” said Naomi Kaufman Price, a former Oregon Patient Safety Commission member. “It took this. A travesty.”

The Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, while not criticizing the need for the new rules, called on the governor to avoid issuing any further health orders that could strain the state’s limping hospitality sector further.

“We can’t overstate how exhausted the hospitality industry is from an unthinkable health crisis spanning 18 months and counting,” said ORLA CEO Jason Brandt. “The industry is nowhere near recovery and has a long road ahead after all statewide restrictions were officially lifted 42 days ago.”

ORLA and the Restaurant Law Center previously sued Brown to end a two-week shutdown last fall. The governor has not voiced any intention of issuing another stay-at-home order. Additionally, She hasn’t expressed interest in mandating vaccinations for teachers and school staff approved for priority shots in February ahead of seniors living on their own.

Oregon Republicans said on Wednesday railed against Brown’s new mandates on the grounds they were not based on any clear standards or were likely to change any minds in their districts or beyond.

“Forcing vaccinations on anybody is a total violation of Oregonians’ individual rights,” said Oregon Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod, R-Lyons. “It won’t lead to a large uptick in vaccination, but instead segregate society by medical status.”

The vast majority of Oregon Republicans in the state legislature have declined to disclose their vaccination status. At least one state lawmaker, state Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Myrtle Creek, contracted COVID this year. The Oregon GOP chair has rallied against mandatory vaccinations on the capitol mall.

Many, including Republican lawmakers, have voiced concern about the impact that side effects could have on workers who may not have the needed days off from work to recuperate.

“If Democrats want to mandate vaccines, they must take financial responsibility and liability for the consequences,” Girod said.

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