OREGON, USA — Last month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated rules to no longer require masks at health care facilities if COVID-19 transmission rate is not high, with some exceptions for particular patient conditions. However, Oregon health officials are choosing another path.
The Oregon Health Authority is still requiring masks in health care facilities, such as Hawthorne Vision Care in Southeast Portland. This will be the case until at least the spring.
“In our facility, when we’re examining you we are close to you … so we are breathing each other's air at all times,” explained Rebecca Uhlig, lead optometrist at Hawthorne Vision Care.
Studies from the Oregon Health and Science University suggest that COVID-19 cases will rise this fall, and we can expect to see a flu season comparable to pre-pandemic years.
“I think having to wear masks in facilities makes a lot of sense,” said Britton Taylor, who was leaving a Portland hospital Wednesday after being tested for COVID-19. “There’s still a lot of sick people. I think the winter is coming up — from everything I’ve heard we might be in for a double whammy of COVID and the flu.”
“I think public health should be prioritized everywhere and so I appreciate that Oregon is prioritizing public health,” added Portland resident Jennifer Keyser.
In March, the state lifted its mask mandate in all other settings aside from health care facilities, which has proven to be confusing for some patients.
“There’s still kind of disgruntled about it and upset and they’ll often try to argue about it and say the CDC says we don’t have to, and we’ll come right back with, 'OHA says we do,'” said Dr. Uhlig.
It’s just another COVID challenge local doctors must navigate.
“It is difficult because they’re just looking at us saying, 'Hey, you guys are an eye clinic, you’re not the CDC,' and we say 'Yes we’re an eye clinic but we’re under the authority of Oregon Health Authority and Governor Brown, so we have to follow our local rules even though the federal CDC says one thing,'” Dr. Uhlig said.
Oregon state health authorities also pointed to hospitals in the state being at or near capacity, along with many that are short-staffed.
“It just ends up making for a healthier community and less hospitalizations. Considering our hospitals are pretty overworked it’s probably best to give them the break we can,” said Portland resident Collette Hanson.
Health care providers who don’t require masks could be face a $500 fine each day they violate the rule, in addition to putting their licensing in jeopardy. OHA is currently making a plan for when they will update the mask requirement. That will come out in a few weeks.
“I think the more people can mask up during the wintertime the better,” said Taylor.