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Oregon considers vaccine passport requirement to remove mask in businesses

The idea is controversial within public health because of fairness concerns.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) appears to be moving toward requiring vaccine passports for anyone who wants to take their mask off inside a business that will allow it.

It comes after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the state would follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, which came out Thursday. Those guidelines said fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask inside or outside in most places. 

Oregon’s current COVID-19 risk framework requires masks and social distancing inside all retail stores in all counties.

But that could change soon when the OHA is expected to announce new guidance that will allow businesses to relax rules and follow CDC suggestions.

Sound confusing? It is. Even for the experts like Dr. Jennifer Vines who is the Health Officer for Multnomah County.

“We're not giving direction yet. So, we are similarly confused and are trying to look through and fully understand the various mask frameworks,” Dr. Vines said.

RELATED: 'Anybody can say that they got vaccinated': How the honor system factors into the new CDC mask guidance

State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said the state will likely make businesses check for proof of vaccination at the door.

“We would anticipate that a business, an establishment will have to have a system in place for asking about vaccine status and verifying that," Dr. Sidelinger said. "Right now I would anticipate that that would be seeing a card with the individuals name, the vaccines they've gotten, the date and where they gotten them. That could be a picture of a vaccine card or record from their provider on their phone."

He's talking about what many call a vaccine passport. Its been discussed in terms of international travel and now, more frequently in connection to vaccinations.

It’s not a popular idea, even within the public health profession and not with Dr. Vines.

“I publicly have never supported the notion of a vaccine passport," Dr. Vines said. "Very few people have. Because it really raises so many other policy questions around enforcement and equity questions around people who just haven't had a chance to get vaccinated… and so I’ve never supported them and yet here we are with a mask, and yet here we are with a scenario that either looks like honor system or vaccine passport."

RELATED: Understanding vaccine hesitancy: Who is refusing the shot in Oregon and why?

Dr. Sidelinger said proof of vaccination is important.

“In order to meet the CDC guidance that someone who is vaccinated does not need to wear a mask, or keep their distance, we need to know who is vaccinated. We need someone to disclose their vaccination status so they can remove their mask in a setting and not keep their distance,” Dr. Sidelinger said.

Grocery store chains in Oregon including Fred Meyer, Safeway, Albertsons, New Seasons and QFC said they would keep requiring all customers to wear masks for now.