SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown has expanded a mandatory mask order to include large outdoor gatherings as well as indoor gatherings.
The new rule will go into effect Friday and includes everyone aged 5 and older regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated. Masks will be required in outdoor public situations. Brown also is recommending outdoor masks for private gatherings, though they are not mandatory.
“The delta variant is spreading fast and wide, throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic,” Brown said in a Tuesday afternoon announcement. “Cases and hospitalizations are at a record high.”
The immediate impact will be on those going to outdoor sports events, fairs and large gatherings. The new rule will be in effect for the Oregon State Fair in Salem that begins Aug. 27 and for the Pendleton Round-Up Sept. 11. Masks will be required for any college football game as well.
Oregon’s hospitals continue to head toward unknown medical territory as the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients hit 937 in a report Monday, 37 more than Sunday. There’s 253 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit beds, up 22 from the day before.
The Oregon Health Authority said Monday that 4,701 new cases were reported in the state between Friday and Sunday. The Oregon Health & Science University forecast last week that the highly contagious delta variant would lead to skyrocketing case rates that won’t peak until early next month.
Epidemiologists around the nation have noted an increase in infections that cannot be traced to an indoor spread.
“We are starting to see instances where cases are clustering around events, like outdoor music festivals, that happen outdoors,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist in the statement.
A sharp spike in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly contagious delta variant has swept Oregon since July, with increased infection and hospitalization rates. Unvaccinated Oregonians have become sicker longer when infected.
The Oregon Health Authority reported just 7% of adult staffed hospital beds and 8% of adult staffed Intensive Care Unit beds in the state were available on Monday. OHA has forecast it will be 500 beds short at the peak of the spike, when daily cases rates could top 5,000 under some scenarios.
Deaths have also been rising, with 159 so far this month, putting it on pace to be the fourth or fifth worst level of fatalities since the pandemic hit Oregon in February 2020. Because early vaccination efforts centered on older and medically fragile people, OHA has said the state will not see the 603 deaths reported in December. But the spread of the delta variant is increasing the overall population of those infected, which will lead to an upturn in deaths.
Monday’s totals brought the state to 257,644 cases. The death total stands at 3,036.
The extension of the rules to outdoors mirrors many of the exceptions of the existing indoor mandate.
People do not need to wear masks while drinking, eating or sleeping. Masks are not required for those singing, speaking or otherwise performing in a public setting, during sports games or training. It also has an exception for the homeless.
The order comes as the state is hammered by the highly contagious delta variant that has driven infection levels above those of last winter. Hospitalizations have overwhelmed medical centers across the state and forecast are for at least 10 more days before the infection wave peaks.
Because of the speed of the spread of the delta variant, health officials say it is too late for the two-shot Moderna or Pfizer vaccinations to have full effect before the current spike spreads throughout communities.
The only way to partially blunt the expected peak of infections and hospitalizations is by expanded masking at least until the spike levels out and drops dramatically.
“Masks are a quick and simple tool we can immediately deploy to protect ourselves and our families, and quickly help stop further spread of COVID-19,” Brown said.