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Oregon begins drafting new indoor mask rules

The new rules will replace the current mandate, which expires in February, but it's not yet clear whether the new rules will be substantially different

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Health Authority’s Rules Advisory Committee met on Thursday to begin the process of drafting a permanent set of rules for the state’s indoor mask requirement. OHA lifted Oregon’s outdoor mask mandate last week, but separate mask rules for indoor spaces, schools and healthcare settings all remain in place.

Oregon’s first mask mandate was imposed in May 2020 and lifted in June 2021 once vaccines became widely available and COVID-19 case numbers fell. The more-virulent delta variant arrived in late July and sent the state’s case numbers rocketing back up, threatening to overwhelm hospitals, prompting health leaders to reimpose the mask mandate in August.

The current indoor mask mandate is a temporary rule and is set to expire in February, so Oregon health leaders wants to be able to switch to a permanent rule before then. The permanent rule can still be ended once the COVID-19 pandemic recedes to a safe level, but it can remain in place indefinitely in the meantime and won’t expire prematurely while case numbers are still dangerously high.

RELATED: US to extend mask mandate for travelers through mid-March

Thursday’s meeting gave industry stakeholders, such as representatives from the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, a change to review a draft copy of the proposed permanent rule and offer feedback for OHA staff to consider.

Some of the industry representatives on the call expressed concern about businesses’ ability to continue to enforce the mask mandate for their customers, particularly now that many other states have relaxed their mandates.

“Getting people to comply is getting harder,” said Paloma Sparks from the Oregon Business & Industry association.

RELATED: Gov. Inslee to require proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test to attend large events in Washington

Oregon has not yet publicly released a copy of the draft permanent rule, so it’s not clear whether it includes any major changes to the guidelines from the current temporary rule.

The draft permanent rule will be released publicly by mid-December, according to OHA policy specialist Ilana Kurtzig, and there will be a public comment period starting in late December leading up to a public hearing in mid-January.

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