(The Center Square) – Donning a face mask will not be an option for Oregonians out and about in indoor spaces, Gov. Kate Brown has announced.
That includes the people working in her office, Brown said on Tuesday, who must also provide proof of full vaccination by October 18 or six weeks after any new vaccines are approved by the federal government, whichever is later. The order the governor announced on Tuesday applies to everyone working for the state's executive branch. That includes the offices of the State Treasurer, the Secretary of State and the Department of Justice. COVID tests will not be an option, nor will personal, religious, or philosophical exemptions.
In a statement on Tuesday, Brown said Oregonians are now left with two options to keep case rates down: mask up or get jabbed. The message marks a dramatic shift in tone for the governor, who for the past month has left it up to businesses to issue and enforce their own health mandates.
Health care workers remain the largest demographic of public employees exempt from Brown's mandate due to existing state law. However, Oregon Democrats in the state legislature have voiced interest in revisiting the law.
Modeling from the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Health and Science University released on Tuesday estimated that COVID hospitalizations could push Oregon's health system capacity to its limits in weeks without intervention.
According to OHSU projections, Oregon could come up 500 staffed hospital beds short of what will be needed to treat hospital patients.
"When our hospitals are full, there will be no room for additional patients needing care—whether for COVID-19, a heart attack or stroke, a car collision, or a variety of other emergency situations," Brown said. "If our hospitals run out of staffed beds, all Oregonians will be at risk."
On Tuesday, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID statewide was 635, or 60 more than Monday. According to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), that's the highest tally of COVID patients the state has recorded to date.
The OHA also reported 2,329 new cases—an eight month high—and nine new deaths from the virus, bringing Oregon's caseload to 232,436 and the death toll to 2,912.
Weekly case rates in Oregon have almost tripled from where they were in April before vaccinations were available to the general public. Metro regions like Multnomah County have restored face mask rules in response.
Face masks will also be returning in Oregon's schools this fall for students as well as staff. They will apply to everyone regardless of vaccination status.
"This new mask requirement will not last forever, but it is a measure that can save lives right now," Brown said. "It will help to protect all of us, including people who are immunocompromised, and our children under 12 who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated."
Brown's latest order resembles a watered-down version of similar rules issued in a host of Democratic-led states. In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee issued sweeping requirements for all state employees to get vaccinated with zero exemptions save for medical ones.
Brown will hold a news conference on Wednesday to elaborate on the new health rules.