File photo: Chas Hundley

On Thursday, Governor Kate Brown issued a directive to the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education to create a rule to require face coverings indoors for students in K-12 schools across the state for the 2021-22 school year, citing CDC guidance. 

“The science and data are clear: the Delta variant is in our communities, and it is more contagious,” Brown said. “My priority is to ensure our kids are able to safely return to full-time in-person learning this fall, five days per week and with minimal disruptions. With many children still ineligible to be vaccinated, masks are an effective way to help keep our kids safe in the classroom, the learning environment we know serves them best.”

“In the meantime, as we ask Oregonians statewide to mask up in public indoor spaces, we will continue working hard to vaccinate more people so we can finally beat this virus once and for all. Vaccines remain the most effective and best way to protect ourselves and our families.”

The Salem Reporter reported that the Oregon Department of Education would establish guidelines to include modifications in the indoor masking rules for students with disabilities or medical issues. 

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) is recommending the universal use of masks in public indoor settings throughout the state in response to a large jump in cases and hospitalizations of the highly contagious Delta Covid-19 variant. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said people who are vaccinated with currently available vaccines are protected, though not 100 percent, from the virus and the circulating variants, including the Delta variant that now is seen in the majority of new Oregon cases, an OHA press release states. 

“[The] reported sharp rise in cases and hospitalizations in Oregon are sobering reminders that the pandemic is not over, especially for Oregonians who remain unvaccinated,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, a state epidemiologist and health officer. “The highly contagious Delta variant has increased tenfold in the past two weeks in Oregon, and it is now estimated to be associated with 80 percent of the new cases in Oregon. The use of face masks provides significant protection for individuals who are unvaccinated as well as an additional level of protection from a small but known risk of infection by the virus for persons who already have been vaccinated.”

OHA’s recommendation aligns with the CDC’s new guidance issued Tuesday that everyone, including fully-vaccinated persons, wears a mask in public indoor settings. OHA’s recommendation applies statewide, and not just areas with higher infections and high transmission, as cases have increased across the state in recent weeks due to the Delta variant, the press release says.

OHA is continuing to call on local community and public health leaders, and businesses, to encourage vaccination and masking to prevent new outbreaks in areas of substantial and high transmission.