Oregonians can ditch masks while inside businesses — as long as they bring their vaccination papers

CERT team volunteer Laura Hildebrandt holds out one of the donated masks during a mask collection event at Woodmansee Park. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Oregonians and businesses have a choice under new masking guidelines rolled out on Tuesday. 

Businesses can allow customers to drop masks if they provide proof they’re fully vaccinated against Covid. If businesses don’t want the hassle of verifying customers’ vaccination, they can keep the mask requirement. Similarly, if customers would rather not share their vaccination record, they can keep the mask on.

Those were the central takeaways during a Tuesday afternoon press briefing where Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer and state epidemiologist, explained the newly released guidelines. 

“This is great news,” said Sidelinger. “We have effective and safe vaccines and cases are decreasing.”

The new state guidelines follow updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations that said that fully vaccinated people can ditch face coverings in most situations, but should mask up on public transit or crowded situations. Sidelinger said the guidelines reflect that vaccinated people very rarely contract or spread Covid. 

Under the guidelines released Tuesday, Oregonians no longer need to wear masks outdoors, whether vaccinated or not. But masks are still required for everyone in hospitals, prisons, nursing homes and other areas where Covid is especially likely to spread or is a particular concern.

Masks remain required in schools but the new guidelines do apply to school sports. 

Sidelinger said Oregon is moving in the right direction on transmissions and vaccinations. But he said that not even half of Oregonians 16 and older who are eligible for the vaccination are fully immunized. He said that vaccination has not been even and that Black and Latino communities have lower vaccination rates despite being at greater risk of contracting the virus. 

He said the guidelines take into account this equity and give people the option of wearing a mask indoors and not sharing their vaccination records. Sidelinger reiterated that if businesses want to allow customers and staff to go unmasked they need to verify someone’s vaccination status. 

He said that a record must include the person’s name, birth date and when they received their doses. It can be a paper copy or a picture on a phone. If someone lost their card, they can get a record from their healthcare provider, he said. 

When asked about fake documents, Sidelinger again said that businesses aren’t required to prove vaccine cards are authentic and the state is depending on Oregonians not to “lie or cheat.”

Businesses and business groups have expressed concern that they’ll become the “vaccine police” and that the new rules will end up being another burden. On Tuesday, Enchanted Forest announced it was delaying its opening after concerns the requirements would invite conflict to the amusement park. 

If verifying vaccination status becomes a burden, businesses can just require customers and staff to wear masks, said Sidelinger. 

“Again, businesses have choices and individuals have choices on how to protect themselves and others around them,” he said. 

The new guidelines will rely on the Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the Oregon Liquor Commission and local public health authorities for enforcement, he said. If businesses are violating the guidelines, people can file complaints with these agencies, he said. 

But Sidelinger said that these rules will eventually go away, reiterating Gov. Kate Brown’s announcement that she would lift most restrictions once 70% of eligible Oregonians 16 and older have received at least one dose of Covid vaccine. The state is currently at 62.3%.

Counties can apply to move into the lowest category for Covid restrictions once 65% of eligible residents have received their first dose of vaccine and the state signs off on their plan to offer immunizations to communities of color.

Five Oregon counties hit that mark Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown announced, but Marion and Polk weren’t among them. Benton, Deschutes, Hood River, Lincoln, and Washington counties are cleared to move to low risk starting Friday, Brown’s office said in a news release.

According to the most recent Oregon Health Authority numbers, 41% of eligible Marion County residents are fully vaccinated, and 52.5% have received at least a first dose. In Polk County,47% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, and 58.4% have received at least one dose. Statewide, nearly 49% of Oregonians are fully vaccinated. 

With vaccinations increasing and hospitalizations decreasing, he said that the summer of 2021 may look more like the summer of 2019 than 2020. 

“This is one step towards moving towards normalcy and moving towards recovery,” he said.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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