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Mask Indoors for Safety, Officials say

Spike in COVID-19 cases brings new warnings

A sign outside of a store in Los Angeles advises shoppers to wear masks. Because of a spike in COVID-19 cases, Oregon is now recommending that people wear a mask in public indoor settings and in schools, including those who are fully vaccinated. (AP photo)

In response to a spike in COVID-19 cases in Oregon and updated national guidance calling for masking measures to prevent the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant, state health officials are now recommending that people wear a mask in public indoor settings and in schools — including those who are fully vaccinated.

The new guidance comes as the state’s daily case count has grown to its highest levels since January based on recent data.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s office announced Thursday that masks will be required indoors at K-12 schools come the fall.

The governor's office said it was working with the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education to mandate masks indoors for the upcoming school year, to reflect the most recent recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Citing new information about the variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC has recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.

Oregon’s new recommendations for COVID-19 safety apply statewide and not just in areas with high infection rates.

Health officials continue to reiterate that the greatest protection against COVID-19 is the vaccine. However in Oregon, around 29% of adults have yet to be vaccinated. Health officials warn the increased spread of the delta variant poses a great risk for unvaccinated people. Last month, the health authority reported that 92% of coronavirus cases in June and 94% of coronavirus deaths occurred in unvaccinated Oregonians.

Multnomah County Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey said if people don’t act, we can expect an exponential rise in cases, especially in pockets with low vaccinations.

“This could lead to preventable hospitalizations and even death,” Guernsey said in a news release. “Masking is a step we can all take right now to keep businesses open and move ahead with our plans for the school year.”

County health officials are particularly worried about the delta variant, which is roughly twice as contagious as earlier virus strains and may cause more severe illness.

“Vaccination remains the very best protection against this virus and its variants, so for anyone who can, don’t wait. Get your shot,” Guernsey said. “But we need a quick course correction to protect children and other people right now. And masks offer that protection.”

--Associated Press contributed to this story.


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