Oregon Officials Propose Making Indoor Mask Mandate Permanent

Oregon's health officials are moving forward with a proposal to make the state's indoor mask mandate permanent.

The state has imposed some of the country's most stringent COVID-19 restrictions, and is among a handful that continues to mandate masks in certain settings. An outdoor mask mandate was lifted in November 2021.

The current mandate requires anyone aged 5 or over to wear masks in all indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status.

But the rule is temporary and set to expire in February, prompting the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to propose making it permanent in order to allow the mandate to remain in place indefinitely.

The public will be allowed to offer comment at a hearing on indoor mask requirements scheduled for Thursday, January 20.

It comes as the state, like others across the country, is dealing with a surge in coronavirus infections driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

State Rep. Pam Marsh, a Democrat, told KOBI-TV this week that making the rule permanent allows the state to keep it in place for as long as it is necessary, but that it can always be revoked in the future.

"None of us want to wear these masks forever, that is not the intent at all," Marsh told the station. "It's to recognize where we're at in this public health emergency and enable us to continue with those mask requirements."

But State Rep. Kim Wallan, a Republican, said that there had been "no rationale given" for the move. "Since there's so many other states going in the opposite direction, I do think it makes us look like such an outlier," Wallan said.

ABC affiliate KATU reported that the OHA convened a Rules Advisory Committee in December 2021 to discuss making the indoor mask mandate permanent. The committee included community stakeholders, such as those from the hospital and faith sectors.

At the time, Dr. Paul Cieslak, the medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations with OHA, told the station that making the rule permanent does not mean it will always be in effect.

"Permanent means indefinite. It doesn't necessarily mean permanent," Cieslak said. "We can repeal it as well, but we are only allowed to have a temporary rule for 180 days, and anything that goes beyond 180 days, we cannot extend it."

The OHA on Tuesday reported 10 new COVID-19 related deaths in the state, bringing the state's death toll to 5,893. The agency also reported 28,037 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to over 540,000.

The OHA, Marsh and Wallan have been contacted for comment. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's office has also been contacted for comment.

A sign reminds customers to wear masks
A sign reminds customers to wear their masks at a bakery in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on Friday, May 21, 2021. Gillian Flaccus/AP Photo