Oregon has accelerated its timeline to lift its statewide mask mandate. Today, February 24, the Oregon Health Authority announced that Oregonians will be able to enter restaurants and bars maskless by March 19, almost two weeks ahead of the previously announced schedule.
In early February, the state indicated that the statewide mask mandate — required for all indoor public spaces and K-12 schools — would expire on March 31. The announcement came as COVID-19 cases dropped significantly across the state; however, representatives from various Oregon school districts have communicated a desire to accelerate that transition away from masks, and even actively defy the state mask mandate.
In today’s press release, the Oregon Health Authority indicated that COVID-19 hospitalizations are “projected to reach levels below those at the state of the Omicron surge,” and that hospitalizations have declined 48 percent since the omicron-related peak in late January. Within the last month, new COVID-19 infections have also dropped more than 80 percent within the state.
However, the state still recommends people in high-risk groups wear masks in indoor public spaces, and businesses — like restaurants and bars — will be able to require masks despite the removal of the statewide mandate. That being said, the previous lift of the mask mandate resulted in a more hostile customer response to private mask requirements, according to several Portland restaurant owners and workers.
Until March 19, masks are still required in restaurants and bars unless actively eating or drinking.