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Multnomah and other counties recommend all people wear masks indoors as COVID cases surge

Public health officials said everyone should wear a mask in indoor public spaces, even if they're vaccinated.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Multnomah County Public Health issued a universal mask recommendation Monday, strongly recommending everyone age 5 and older resume wearing masks in all indoor public spaces, even if they have been vaccinated. 

Multnomah County public health officials said the rise in cases is largely due to an increase in social activities and the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus. The spread is primarily among people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Studies show that universal masking reduces the risk of infection by at least 70%, according to Multnomah County Public Health. 

“We have an opportunity to make a difference in our county’s case rates right now. But if we don’t act, we can expect an exponential rise in cases, especially in pockets with low vaccinations. This could lead to preventable hospitalizations and even death,” said public health director Jessica Guernsey in a news release Monday. “Masking is a step we can all take right now to keep businesses open and move ahead with our plans for the school year. This is the thing that will make a difference.”

Clark, Clackamas and Washington counties affirmed the recommendation as well. Washington County said it was more encouraging than recommending but the message about getting vaccinated is echoed through the counties.

Seattle-King County and multiple counties in the San Francisco Bay Area have issued similar advisories, as well as the cities of Savannah, Ga., Long Beach, Calif., and Philadelphia. Los Angeles County reinstated its mask mandate due to rising cases. 

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Health officials expressed concern about the delta variant, which they said is roughly twice as contagious as earlier strains of the virus and may cause more severe illness. Approximately 90% of recently sequenced cases of COVID-19 in the United States are the delta variant. In Oregon, 80% of recently sequenced tests are the delta variant. 

A recent UK study, cited by Yale Medicine, states that children who are unable to get vaccinated due to their age, are 2.5 times more likely to contract the delta variant.

Health officials said fully vaccinated people continue to see strong protection from severe illness and death with the delta variant, but people with only one dose of Pfizer or Moderna are not as protected. Fully vaccinated people can still become ill and transmit the virus. Multnomah County Public Health said the vast majority of people becoming hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Health officials encouraged people who have not yet gotten the vaccine to get the shot. 

“Vaccination remains the very best protection against this virus and its variants, so for anyone who can, don’t wait. Get your shot,” Guernsey said in a news release. “But we need a quick course correction to protect children and other people right now. And masks offer that protection.”

RELATED: Delta variant has become dominant in Oregon, health officials say