The Oregon Health Authority this week announced it would move up its date for lifting the statewide indoor mask mandate, from March 19 to March 12.
The State of Oregon based its decision on the dramatic drop in hospitalizations and case counts statewide, the ongoing effectiveness of vaccines, and the recently updated metrics that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks for risk evaluation announced on Feb. 25. Masks will continue to be required by the State in certain settings, such as healthcare facilities and some congregate settings like correctional and detention facilities.
Like the rest of the state, Multnomah County has seen a dramatic drop in hospitalizations and case rates since the January surge that resulted from the Omicron variant. The rates of vaccinations and boosters in Multnomah County are high, and we continue our efforts to ensure equitable access to the vaccine. In addition, the sheer number of individuals who were infected with the Omicron variant is widely believed to provide a level of community protection against COVID-19 for at least the next three months.
Based on this picture — and with no new variant on the horizon — Multnomah County will not be implementing a local mask mandate at this time.
As part of the recent updates to their guidance, the CDC created a new COVID-19 Community Levels tool to help communities and individuals determine which mitigation strategies are best suited to their situation based on local data. The tool places communities into three levels — low, medium and high — based on three key weekly indicators: the proportion of available hospital beds being used by people with COVID-19, the number of new COVID-19-related hospital admissions and the number of new COVID-19 cases. Currently, Multnomah County is classified as having a “medium COVID-19 community level.” Only CDC’s “high” risk level includes a recommendation for universal indoor masking.
In addition, informed by local and State COVID-19 numbers and disease severity, and the CDC’s shift in the COVID-19 response framework, the State has updated the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance. These changes include:
- Transition from statewide decision-making to county-level decision-making.
- Continued school exclusion of anyone who is sick or has tested positive for COVID-19 in the prior 5 days.
- Pausing general contact tracing and quarantine in school settings, consistent with the contact tracing pause in the general community several weeks ago. Contact tracing and quarantine are widely understood to be ineffective at slowing the spread of a virus that moves as quickly as the Omicron variant.
- Ending the “test-to-stay” option in order to devote testing resources to:
- Enhanced school-based testing of individuals with symptoms
- Enhanced screening testing for unvaccinated staff and students
- Ongoing support for continued use of masks among anyone who needs or wants to do so.
Multnomah County Public Health will continue to work closely with local schools and school districts as they implement these changes. This work is being informed by a strong foundation of communicable disease control plans that have been in place for years before the pandemic.
We know that changes in the response to COVID-19 may cause anxiety and fear given the last two years of a global pandemic. But Multnomah County is confident that the time is right to begin easing COVID-19 precautions. We also recognize that highly vulnerable members of our community remain at greater risk, including those who are unvaccinated, have serious underlying health conditions like immunocompromise, or are over the age of 65. We continue to encourage everyone to stay up-to-date on all COVID-19 vaccines and fully support those individuals who need or want to continue masking in indoor public spaces.