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Multnomah County urges public to wear masks indoors amid BA.2 wave

The recommendation comes as the BA.2 version of omicron sends cases and hospitalizations upward statewide.

PORTLAND, Ore. — With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising, Multnomah County health officials on Wednesday strongly urged the public to wear masks indoors until the numbers drop again.  

"This is not a mandate but we are asking everyone to put their masks back on for a few weeks as they go to school, work and other indoor events," said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines.

She said the goal is to minimize the spread of illness "so that people stay well and can attend all the spring events they have planned."

On Tuesday, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) warned that a new COVID wave is underway, with new cases and hospitalizations both surging from their post-omicron low points in the past six weeks. OHA said the wave is largely fueled by the BA.2 version of the omicron variant.

The seven-day average for new cases statewide was 1,281 as of Wednesday, up from a low point of 229 in late March. Hospitalizations reached a low point of 84 on April 7, but have more than doubled to 201 in the past few weeks.

In Multnomah County alone, the seven-day case average was 350 cases per day.

In a new release, the Multnomah County Health Department said people who are at particularly high risk may want to avoid crowded indoor settings for the next few weeks. 

"It's most important for people who are at risk of severe disease, but we're offering it up to everyone as a way to lower their individual risk of becoming ill," Vines told KGW. "We're not asking employers or organizations or event planners to do anything differently — we're offering up an individual tool for those who want to lower their risk of COVID these next few weeks as disease activity intensifies."

RELATED: 'We're in a BA.2 wave' | COVID cases on the rise in Oregon

Credit: Multnomah County Health Department
Data on the latest COVID-19 numbers in Multnomah County as of Wednesday, May 11, 2022.

While hospitalization rates have not increased in school-aged people, health officials said cases and outbreaks are increasing in schools. 

"We are in the phase of the pandemic where we must respond with what we know works. And that's vaccines and masking indoors," said Dr. Vines. "In the context of schools, the academic success, social wellbeing and mental health of our kids should be a top priority. That's why we strongly recommend indoor masking in schools."

Everyone who's eligible is encouraged to stay up-to-date on vaccinations, practice good hand hygiene and stay home when sick — regardless of testing negative for COVID.

"We're saying just for the next few weeks — this is a 'mini surge,' if you will, it's expected to peak in hospitalizations in early June," Vines said. "So again, giving people the tools they can use to lower their individual risk of illness between now and then."