Due to the incredible hard work of Oregonians over the past year, COVID-19 infection rates are down, and 70% of adult Oregonian’s have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
In response to these encouraging developments, as of June 30, Oregon Gov.Kate Brown rescinded the orders that imposed mask mandates, capacity limits, limits that required vaccine verification and physical distancing requirements in businesses and other sectors. The order imposing restrictions on higher education has also been rescinded. Decision making regarding the health and safety of students in K-12 schools is returned to local school districts.
There are settings, however, such as healthcare, public transportation, correctional facilities and other congregate settings where enhanced COVID-19 precautions will be necessary for an additional period of time, following federal guidance. Please see EO No. 21-15 for details (Executive Order No. 21-15).
On the same date, Oregon OSHA removed the facial covering and physical distancing requirements of its COVID-19 rule for all workplaces, with exceptions including healthcare, public transit and airports. Not all of Oregon OSHA’s COVID-19 requirements are going away immediately. For the rule addressing all workplaces, examples of measures that will remain in place longer include optimization of ventilation, notification of a positive case in the workplace, and proper steps to take if an employee must quarantine (see OR-OSHA AO 5-2021 for details).
Practically speaking, what this means is individuals are no longer required to wear masks in most public settings and workplaces. Restrictions on the number of persons at events and in facilities placed due to COVID-19 are also removed.
For those of us living in Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam counties, this is good and welcome news. As your Public Health Officer, I am incredibly grateful and proud of the compassion, ingenuity, hard work and generosity shown by the residents of our community. It is important to remember, however, that although we feel very done with COVID-19, it is not quite done with us.
Although low in numbers, infections and hospitalizations from COVID-19 are still happening, with the vast majority occurring in unvaccinated people. Children under 12 and some individuals are unable to receive the vaccine at this time, leaving them susceptible to infection. Those who are immune-compromised may be vulnerable to infection even after being vaccinated. Finally, there are still thousands of residents in our three-county region who have not yet chosen to be vaccinated.
So while we celebrate the progress we have made, let us continue to protect ourselves and one another. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. If you have questions or concerns about their safety, please talk with a trusted medical provider to obtain accurate and factual information. Vaccines are the number one tool we have in reducing the risk of infection and long term complications from COVID-19.
Let’s make this an amazing summer to remember — for all the good reasons!
Miriam D. McDonell is the Health Officer for North Central Public Health District