Oregon Health Authority lifts outdoor mask requirement

Schools get new tool for testing for COVID

Nov. 26, 2021 — On Nov. 23, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) announced that state health officials will lift COVID-19 outdoor mask requirements for large public gatherings. In addition, state education officials announced that an adequate and stable COVID-19 test kit supply has been acquired for all public and private schools in the state to be able to implement “test to stay” protocols. 

“Right now, this is not a huge impact on school operations,” said Siuslaw School District Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak. “Outdoor recess, mainly at the elementary school, is treated as a 'mask break' when students can maintain some physical distance. The bigger impact will be for middle and high school physical education classes when they go outside for activities.”

OHA health officials have now lifted the requirement for outdoor mask wearing in crowded settings. The rule was implemented in August at the onset of Oregon’s most recent surge of COVID-19.

Health officials noted that the outdoor mask rule was among the actions taken to combat Oregon’s most recent and deadly COVID-19 surge, which has been fueled by the spread of the Delta variant, largely among unvaccinated Oregonians. The outdoor mask rule, a rule that requires people to wear masks indoors in public settings and a slow but steady rise in vaccination rates, have helped reduce transmission rates.

According to Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state health officer, “While it’s too soon to lift all mask precautions, we can remove the outdoor mask requirement for crowded public settings. We’re not seeing these settings fueling large outbreaks. Oregonians can interact with others outdoors without putting themselves and others at high risk, especially if they are vaccinated.”

OHA lifted the outdoor masks requirement in light of the overall progress Oregon has made to curb new infections and stabilize hospitalizations. 

This announcement updates the temporary rules OAR 333-019-1025, the statewide indoor/outdoor face covering rule, and OAR 333-019-1015, the K-12 face covering rule. The revision to OAR 333-019-1025 will maintain a statewide requirement for mask use in indoor settings and removes the requirement for everyone age five or older to wear a face covering outdoors where people from separate households gather. Revisions to OAR 333-019-1015 will remove the outdoor face covering requirement for K-12 settings.

For Grzeskowiak, “The greatest impact coming out of today's announcement will be the 'test to stay' protocols. … The overall impact will mean modified quarantine and isolation protocols for students — less time out of school — if they test negative after exposure and then again between days 5-7 post-exposure.”
OHA’s “test to stay” protocol allows unvaccinated students and staff to continue to participate in in-person instruction in Oregon’s K-12 schools during their quarantine period. The risk of transmission is minimized in school settings because the required testing is combined with several layers of mitigation including universal masking, physical distancing, cohorting and ventilation. 

“The CDC considers ‘test to stay’ a promising practice for minimizing quarantine and maximizing school days in school,” Grzeskowiak said.

“Test to stay” is a form of modified quarantine, which allows individuals to attend school during their 7-day quarantine period. However, individuals participating in “test to stay” are expected to maintain quarantine outside of classroom settings. Students and staff participating in “test to stay” may participate in school-related extracurricular activities during their 7-day quarantine period but must wear a face covering at all times during these activities.

While in this protocol, unvaccinated asymptomatic individuals who were exposed in indoor and outdoor school settings will be tested twice during the 7 days following exposure. First, as soon as the exposure has been identified, with a second test occurring between days 5-7 following the exposure.

Siuslaw School District has already registered for the OHA diagnostic testing program and has been since implementation last school year.

“The greater need is for parents and guardians to complete the testing consent form if they have not already done so,” Grzeskowiak added.

ODE Director Colt Gill said, “We know the critical importance that school attendance has on student success. Using ‘test to stay’ as part of a layered set of protocols in schools will keep students and educators in classrooms, maximizing days spent in school learning, growing and thriving. It’s important to remember that if an individual is vaccinated and exposed to COVID-19, they do not have to take a COVID-19 ‘test to stay’ in school or quarantine.”

In a statement about Tuesday’s update, ODE wrote, “OHA’s ‘test to stay’ protocol is a new and critical tool in our work to keep Oregon’s students learning in person; however, the best tool remains vaccination. CDC and OHA recommend all children 5 years and older be vaccinated against COVID-19. … Vaccines are the single most important factor in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Being vaccinated helps keep staff in front of students and, now that vaccines are available to everyone over the age of five, it also keeps students in class as well.”

OHA reviews data regularly to determine the need for face coverings. As COVID-19 rates increase or decrease in Oregon, decisions to relax or tighten statewide face covering requirements may be made. 
For more information, visit coronavirus.oregon.gov, covidvaccine.oregon.gov, lanecounty.org/coronavirus and lanecounty.org/vaxclinics.
ODE, in partnership with OHA, is working to develop resources to offer additional details for school and district leaders. These will include revisions to the “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” Resiliency Framework.

Additional information and translated documents for families are posted on ODE’s Communications Toolkit page at www.oregon.gov/ode/students-and-family/healthsafety/Pages/2020-21-Communications-Toolkit.aspx.

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