Health News

Oregon Lifts Its Outdoor Mask Mandate

A steady decline in cases and hospitalizations moved the Oregon Health Authority to strike down the rule on November 23.

By Conner Reed November 23, 2021

A man with a backpack on a steamy city street, with his hand on his face mask as if about to remove it

If this man happened to be in Oregon instead of at a busy Taipei street market, and happened to be fully vaccinated and not immunocompromised, the Oregon Health Authority would be just fine with him taking off his mask outdoors, as of November 23.

In turning-your-face-to-the-wind news: on November 23, the Oregon Health Authority announced an end to Oregon's outdoor mask mandate. Prior to the announcement, the state required masks on everyone over the age of 5 in outdoor settings where six feet of distance between people was not possible. Oregon was the only state to reintroduce such a mandate, regardless of vaccination status, amid the summer’s delta variant surge. It took effect August 27.

"This new mask guidance should not keep people who want to continue wearing masks in all settings from doing so," said Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen at a press conference on Tuesday. He specifically noted unvaccinated, elderly, or immunocompromised individuals, and people who share households with any of the above, as candidates for continued outdoor masking. Allen said mask wearing is still recommended "for people who are in crowded outdoor settings for an extended period."

A number of factors went into the decision, Allen said: Oregon has the fourth-lowest rate of new COVID-19 cases and sixth-lowest rate of deaths nationwide; our case counts and hospitalizations have been steadily declining for the past six weeks, and the seven-day average for new cases is down 64 percent from the week the outdoor mask mandate initially went into effect.

The announcement comes right on the heels of just-in-time-for-Thanksgiving CDC and FDA approval for COVID-19 booster shots in all adults at least six months out from their most recent dose. Currently, almost 8 in 10 adult Oregonians have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

The state's indoor mask mandate remains in effect, with no clear path to repeal. "Although the COVID-19 landscape is markedly improved, we are not yet at a point where we can consider relaxing the guidance on wearing masks in indoor public settings," Allen said Tuesday, citing continued threat from the delta variant. "We're still experiencing daily cases and hospitalizations at or near the peaks of previous COVID-19 surges. We're still dealing with limited hospital capacity for all patients."