PORTLAND, Ore. — Face masks will once again be required statewide in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday afternoon. Full details are not yet available. The governor is expected to announce the mandate Wednesday during a press conference.
Gov. Brown is also requiring all state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18, or six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine receives full FDA approval, whichever is later.
The mandate comes as hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases surge in the state with the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) pointing out nearly 100% of new cases are linked to the delta variant. According to OHSU, 30% of patients in intensive care units across Oregon are COVID-19 patients. It's the highest the state has seen since the beginning of the pandemic. Health officials said 95% of those patients are unvaccinated.
“Oregon is facing a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, consisting overwhelmingly of unvaccinated individuals, that is quickly exceeding the darkest days of our winter surge,” said Gov. Brown. “When our hospitals are full, there will be no room for additional patients needing care, whether for COVID-19, a heart attack or stroke, a car collision, or a variety of other emergency situations. If our hospitals run out of staffed beds, all Oregonians will be at risk."
Multnomah County, the state's most populous county, became the first in the state on Monday to require face masks indoors for those vaccinated and unvaccinated starting August 13. Leaders in neighboring metro area counties, Washington County and Clackamas County, said in email responses to KGW Monday afternoon they were not considering adding their own face mask requirement at the time.
"I'm thrilled that she's done this. I know it was a super hard decision. It took a lot of courage," said Dr. Ann Loeffler, deputy health officer for Multnomah County. "Oregonians have actually been great at stepping up and doing the right thing, and they kind of are done being told what to do."
Gov. Brown's requirement for state employees to be fully vaccinated follows the lead of Washington Governor Jay Inslee who announced a mandate Monday that all state employees, contractors and most health care and long-term care workers must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
Oregon's requirement will apply to all executive branch employees, including employees working for all Oregon state agencies. Employees will be required to show proof of vaccination by the deadline, those unable to be vaccinated due to disability or religious belief may qualify for an exception.
State employees will not have the same option as health care workers to undergo weekly testing if they choose to not get the vaccine. Last week, Gov. Brown announced health care workers will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo the testing. The new rule will take effect on Sept. 30 and applies to all personnel in health care settings who have direct or indirect contact with patients or infectious materials.
This is a developing story and will be updated.