On February 7, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) announced that the statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces would be lifted no later than March 31.
This news comes after the Oregon Secretary of State extended the preexisting mask mandate, which expired on February 8. OHA says that this action was the “…only way health officials could extend the current temporary mask rule past its expiration date and until mask rules would no longer be needed to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—to save lives and prevent the Omicron crisis from further overwhelming Oregon’s health care system.”
With the Omicron strain of the virus making waves through the country, surging both infection and death rates, OHA expects cases of infection and hospitalization to drop by late March to numbers similar to those observed prior to the Omicron variant. Due to Oregon’s relatively high vaccination status and adherence to mask mandates, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the State of Oregon retains the “…third lowest cumulative COVID-19 case rate in the nation and the seventh lowest COVID-19 death rate…”
Initial projections for the Omicron surge anticipated that it would top Oregon’s highest hospitalization rates (those during the Delta surge). Credited to the State’s compliance with mask mandates and vaccination recommendations by the CDC, those projections have not been reached.
The decision to end mask mandates by late March comes after reaching the lower end of the most recent surge; lasting from early to mid January when positive COVID cases were nearing 10,000 per day. Since the beginning of February, reported COVID positive cases have been on a steady decline from 3,670 cases on February 1 to 471 cases on February 12.
Portland State University’s Center for Student Health & Counseling (SHAC) has also continually updated their published data since the start of the academic year, reflecting a massive spike in cases since December. Between December and January, SHAC reported that cases have surged from only 26 positive infection results to a staggering 558—a 2,000% increase. Yet, it appears that SHAC’s data also supports the idea of a decline with only 38 reported positive cases reported in February as of February 16.