SALEM, OR -- One of the last hold-overs from the COVID-19 pandemic will be gone next month. The Oregon Health Authority announced Friday patients, staff and visitors in health care settings will no longer be required to wear masks starting April 3.
OHA is rescinding provisions that require workers in health care settings – such as hospitals, mobile clinics, ambulances, outpatient facilities, dental offices, urgent care centers, counseling offices, school-based health centers, complementary and alternative medicine locations – to wear masks. The requirement has been in effect since August 2021.
The decision to end statewide health care mask requirements aligns with decisions in other states, including Washington. Dr. Dean Sidelinger, health officer and state epidemiologist at OHA, said the lifting of Oregon’s health care mask requirement stems from data in recent weeks showing overall decreases in circulation of the three respiratory pathogens that triggered a surge in visits to hospital emergency departments and intensive care units last fall. As of Friday, COVID-19 test positivity is at 10% and is expected to continue dropping; influenza test positivity is at 1.2%; and RSV test positivity is at 1.6% (antigen tests) and 3.5% (molecular tests).
The month-long lead-up to the ending of Oregon’s health care mask requirement gives the health care system, local public health authorities and other health partners time to prepare for the change, including adjusting policies, training and procedures that ensure continued patient safety and access. It also gives members of the public, particularly populations at increased risk of severe disease—communities of color, tribal communities, rural communities, lower-income communities, those with underlying medical conditions, seniors, and parents of vulnerable infants – a chance to plan health care visits and protective measures.
OHA suggests people at higher risk for severe disease, or who live with someone at higher risk, still consider wearing masks in health care or any settings, to better protect themselves and those most vulnerable around them. Some health care settings may continue to require masks even after the state requirement is lifted.
In addition, Executive Order 22-24 expires Monday, March 6. The emergency gave hospitals flexibility to respond to a surge in respiratory infections, including COVID-19, RSV and influenza.