OHA makes indoor masks for K-12 ‘permanent’

Courtesy image

Rule will be rescinded as soon as safe to do so

Feb. 2, 2022 — On Jan. 28, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) adopted permanent rules requiring face coverings in K-12 settings and requiring school and school-based program staff, volunteers, etc., to provide proof of vaccination or medical or religious exception. 

Since temporary rules were adopted in August, Oregon has experienced a significant surge from the delta variant and is currently amid an omicron surge in all corners of our state, with Oregon recently surpassing 6,000 COVID-19 related deaths this week, a tragic pandemic milestone. These rules work together with schools' other layered mitigation measures to protect in-person instruction, and keep students in schools, in front of talented teachers.

The responsibilities for schools described in the rules are unchanged as Oregon continues to place a priority on ensuring that every student can attend school in-person for the entire school year. 

Students are required to attend school, which is a congregate setting where COVID-19 can spread easily if precautions are not taken. Universal and correct use of face coverings keeps students learning in-person. Layered health and safety mitigation measures like face coverings and vaccination are helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in K-12 settings. As a reminder, schools cannot serve a student in-person if they or their family choose not to wear a face covering. Schools may offer a remote or online school option for the student.

With this announcement, these rules go from temporary to permanent. 

State agencies including the OHA implement and interpret their statutory authority through rule making. Agencies regularly adopt, amend, repeal or renumber rules, permanent or temporary. Temporary rules expire, permanent rules are repealed. 

OHA has stated they will continue to review the need for this rule and will rescind or repeal the rule as soon as it is safe to do so. However, the virus sets the timeline. 

“We need to look at the number of COVID-19-positive folks in the hospital who are receiving care and the impact on the ability of the hospitals to provide care,” said Dean Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., state health officer and state epidemiologist. “What we know right now is that those numbers are still increasing but are anticipated to peak soon — within the next week to week and a half — and then are anticipated to come down rather quickly.”

Sidelinger added that the drop in hospitalizations is likely to happen quicker than during the Delta surge in fall 2021, as the length of stay and the amount of critical care needed for patients is less.

“I would anticipate, in the coming weeks to month and a half, that we will see a significant decrease in the number of people with COVID in the hospital,” Sidelinger said. “At that time, it’ll be a time to start talking about, ‘Can we move from a requirement for masks in indoor public spaces to a recommendation for certain populations or in certain communities where rates are higher?’”

Sidelinger also said that actions people in Oregon take over the next several weeks will be critical to ensuring the state’s hospitals have enough capacity to meet the needs of all patients needing care. That means getting primary and booster vaccines, continuing to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces, keeping gatherings small and staying home if you are sick or if you test positive.

“It also means extending protective measures that were enacted earlier in the pandemic requiring mask wearing in schools and health care settings and requiring vaccinations for school employees and health care workers and wearing masks in indoor settings,” he said.

These measures are needed now as vaccination and universal and correct use of face coverings are among the strongest mitigation tools available to protect in-person instruction.

More information can be found www.oregon.gov/oha and healthoregon.org/coronavirus.