FILE - Oregon Gov. Kate Brown

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown

(The Center Square) – Oregonians soon will have to don masks in outdoor public settings regardless of vaccination status.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has announced masks must be worn in most outdoor public settings, including outdoor events, where physical distancing isn’t possible. 

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) goes so far as to recommend masking for outdoor gatherings at a private residence where people from different households are present. 

“The delta variant is spreading fast and wide, throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic. Cases and hospitalizations are at a record high,” Brown said Tuesday in a statement. “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.”

The mandate takes effect Friday. 

Brown said the delta variant is to blame for the state’s increasing COVID-19 infection rate.

“The delta variant is much more contagious than previous variants we’ve seen, and it has dramatically increased the amount of virus in our communities," Brown said. "Masks have proven to be effective at bringing case counts down, and are a necessary measure right now, even in some outdoor settings, to help fight COVID and protect one another.”

OHA said the rule will not be so strict that fleeting encounters, such as two people walking past one another on a trail path, would require wearing masks. 

“It is much easier for people with the delta variant, compared to people who were sick last year, to infect others around them,” State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger said. “This is because they have one thousand times more virus in their nose – which means that those around them are much more likely to get sick because this variant behaves so differently.” 

Sidelinger said his office is beginning to see instances where cases are clustering around events that happen outdoors, such as outdoor music festivals. However, events such as Chicago’s Lollapalooza drew hundreds of thousands of unmasked outdoor visitors and the city had found only 203 cases originated from the four-day festival.

Oregon’s new mask mandate has exceptions: 

• Children under age 5;

• Individuals who are actively eating, drinking, or sleeping – as well as individuals living outdoors, such as persons experiencing homelessness;

• People playing or practicing competitive sports or engaged in an activity in which it is not feasible to wear a mask, such as swimming;

• Individuals delivering a speech or performing, such as with outdoor music or theater.

Mask requirements for day-to-day operations at K-12 schools are not governed by this rule and will continue to fall under the school mask rule. Outside public events, spectator events and gatherings of the general public on K-12 school grounds will be subject to the rule. Child care and youth programs will continue to follow existing OHA mask guidance.

Entities subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act must continue to comply with that law.

Brown implored Oregonians to get vaccinated to lessen the symptoms of COVID-19.

OHA reported 2,804 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, attributing 30 more deaths to the virus. 

Regional Editor

Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.