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'I think this is a great milestone': Multnomah County health officer speaks ahead of lifting of mask mandate

Dr. Jennifer Vines urges people to be patient as everyone will have a different level of comfort when it comes to shedding the masks.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines has been one of the trusted voices throughout the pandemic. KGW turned to her for some perspective before Oregon's indoor mask mandate ends at 11:59 p.m. Friday.

"I actually have a sense of optimism," Vines said. "I think this is a great milestone."

It is a milestone that Dr. Vines said people will approach differently. Some will shed the masks immediately while others will not.

"I think we all need to be patient and expect to see people in masks because they choose to be or feel they need to be for their own health risks or because they are taking some steps to protect others they feel they need to take," Vines said.

Some of the others who may need a little extra protection are those children under five who are too young to be vaccinated. Should they, and even younger kids, continue wearing masks in public and in schools that do not require them?

RELATED: Here's where masks will still be required in Oregon and Washington after March 12

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Health officials urge people to remain vigilant.

"As cases continue to get lower and lower, the risk of those gatherings and social interactions only gets lower and lower," Vines said. "The notion of masking in case someone around your child has the virus, just that possibility from a risk standpoint and from a pure numbers standpoint, is going to get lower and lower."

"I absolutely see why we're removing masks at this point," Dr. Katie Sharff added.

Dr. Sharff is the chief of infectious disease at Kaiser Permanente. She said regardless of your decision to ditch the mask or continue wearing it, we all need to remain vigilant.

"If cases do rise or a new variant comes that's more severe and more transmissible, we need to be dynamic enough to pivot if the masks need to go back on," Sharff said.

If that need arises, it is Dr. Vines' belief that it will not happen until next fall. That is when respiratory viruses circulate with more ease as people head indoors. The focus now, however, is the lifting of the mask mandate this weekend. 

"My final words to people are for people to take the time they need to take their masks off," Vines said. "But I fully support anyone who wants to continue masking."

RELATED: Moda Center will ditch masks, vaccination and negative test requirements

RELATED: Masks to become optional at Portland, Salem, Beaverton schools once Oregon lifts mandate

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