SALEM, Ore. (KATU) — The Oregon Health Authority announced on Friday that masks will no longer be required in healthcare settings starting April 3.
This extends to workers, patients and visitors in all health care settings, including hospitals, mobile clinics, ambulances, outpatient facilities, dental offices, urgent care centers, counseling offices and school-based health centers.
The requirement to wear a mask in health care settings has been in effect since Aug. 2021.
OHA says the rescission stems from improvements in people hospitalized for respiratory infections and those who test positive for COVID, as well as the upcoming March 6 expiration of Executive Order 22-24, the emergency order that gave hospitals flexibility during a surge in respiratory viruses.
"I think this is the right time to repeal this rule. The other steps that individuals can continue to take is to ensure that they’re up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines, with their annual flu shot. That they consider wearing a mask in crowded, indoor places if they’re at higher risk," said Oregon Health Officer Dean Sidelinger.
The decision to end statewide health care mask requirements aligns with decisions in other states, including Washington.
The Washington Department of Health also announced the state would be recalling the mandate on April 3.
OHA states that the month-long leadup to the end of the mask requirement "gives the healthcare system, local public health authorities and other health partners time to prepare for the change, including adjusting policies, training and procedures that ensure continued patient safety and access. It also gives members of the public, particularly populations at increased risk of severe disease -- communities of color, tribal communities, rural communities, lower-income communities, those with underlying medical conditions, seniors, and parents of vulnerable infants -- a chance to plan health care visits and protective measures."
KATU spoke with patients to ask how they feel about the announcement.
Richard Hadeed was walking into the doctor's office on Friday and said he's looking forward to a future appointment where masks are no longer required.
"If you’re talking to a doctor face-to-face, you kind of want some of the expressions. You don’t want them to just see eyes and such. So, I think it’s going to be easier to communicate and understand better," Hadeed said.
Hannah Chubin said she's concerned about lifting the mandate.
"I don’t think it’s a smart decision, because there’s lot of disabled people, and I think not having masks puts them at risk," Chubin said.
Sidelinger said before the COVID-19 pandemic, health care settings would adjust during spikes in illness, such as the flu.
The health officer said in the future, he expects places like hospitals to limit visitors or strongly recommend mask use as needed.
"If we’re feeling sick, and we think we might have flu or COVID-19, we should stay home. If we need to seek care for that, we should put on a mask before we go to seek care and taking these steps as individuals will help us all keep ourselves safe, our loved ones and our neighbors safe," Sidelinger said.
Sidelinger said health care providers will communicate on this leading up to the fall, and he expects they'll recommend another COVID-19 booster shot at that time.