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Oregon extends indoor mask requirement for K-12 schools as current rules expire

The state is keeping the mandate in place by filing "permanent rules." Despite the name, permanent rules can be lifted when health leaders determine it's safe.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon is keeping in place its indoor mask requirement for schools and health care settings as well as its COVID vaccine requirement for school staff and most health care workers. 

On Friday, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) said it was filing "permanent rules" for schools to replace the temporary ones set to expire that day. The rules would keep masks indoors for K-12 schools and would continue vaccination requirements for school staff. 

In this case, the "permanent" designation doesn't mean the rules would last forever, only that they have no built-in expiration date. Despite the name, permanent rules can still be rescinded or cancelled if the OHA determines that they are no longer necessary.

RELATED: No, Oregon's proposed 'permanent' mask rule is not going to remain in place forever

Oregon law gives OHA the power to implement public health rules such as the mask mandate, but the agency is only allowed to leave temporary rules in place for 180 days, according to lead communications officer Jonathan Modie. 

In order to keep a rule in place longer than 180 days, the agency must go through a formal administrative process, including soliciting public input and filing the rule with the Secretary of State's office, to adopt it as a permanent rule.

The Oregon Health Authority said it would also file for new rules on Monday to keep in place the mask mandate for health care workers and vaccination requirements for workers in most health care settings. 

This comes as the state's lead health authority heard hours of testimony last week against the proposal to also make Oregon's indoor mask face rule permanent in order to keep it in place past its Feb. 8 expiration date. No decision has been announced, but health leaders said on Friday they continue to review public comment. The Oregon Health Authority has also indicated it has plans to lift it once it's safe and as conditions change. 

“We need to look at the number of COVID-19-positive folks in the hospital who are receiving care and the impact on the ability of the hospitals to provide care,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer and epidemiologist, said in a news conference on Friday. “What we know right now is that those numbers are still increasing but are anticipated to peak soon – within the next week to week and a half – and then are anticipated to come down rather quickly.”

RELATED: Oregon might be hitting the omicron peak in the coming days, state health officer says

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