Woman wearing mask in grocery store
Restaurants, grocery stores and retailers have sparked the most complaints over Gov. Kate Brown’s latest indoor mask mandate, officials say. (Photo by Getty Images)
By Lynne Terry, Oregon Capital Chronicle

At least two Republican lawmakers oppose a move by the Oregon Health Authority to make a temporary indoor mask mandate permanent.

State Reps. Kim Wallen, R-Medford, and Jessica George, R-Keizer, each issued statements this week calling on Oregonians to voice their concern about a permanent rule. The temporary rule requiring masks to be worn indoors in public places went into effect Nov. 23. It is set to expire Feb. 9.

Temporary rules can only last six months so rather than letting it expire, the health authority intends to make the rule permanent, a move that requires the agency to seek public comment. 

“Making this rule permanent places an undue burden on Oregonians and our businesses, schools, and places of worship,” Wallen wrote in an email sent to followers. “I encourage you to add your comments to the public record.”

George echoed that in a separate email on Tuesday. 

“If you feel strongly, like I do, that these mandates are unnecessary, a continued massive government overreach and a terrible public policy precedent, then please take a minute and send an email or ask to testify,” George wrote. “The outcome is not yet certain so please be a part of the movement to weigh in on this important hearing.”

Senate Republicans weighed in as well. 

“Every Oregonian should be concerned anytime government makes permanent ‘emergency’ mandates without any metrics on when they are no longer required,” Dru Draper, spokesman for the Senate Republican leadership, wrote in an email. “Oregonians are looking around the country and seeing that dozens of other states have no mask mandates, but have fewer cases than Oregon,”

Eight states besides Oregon – California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington — have indoor mask mandates, according to AARP. Connecticut’s mandate only applies to the unvaccinated, and Rhode Island only requires masks in large venues. Washington state has the nation’s only outdoor mask mandate. 

Most states dropped the requirement last spring after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was safe for vaccinated people to go maskless. But in July, amid the delta surge, it reversed its position, saying they should be worn indoors. The CDC also recently recommended wearing tight-fitting N95 or KN95 masks to stem the transmission of omicron, the most transmissible variant yet.

Patrick Allen, director of the health authority, told lawmakers in legislative hearings last week that he intends to lift the mandate when the pandemic poses less of a health risk. The state is in the throes of an omicron surge, with hospitalizations close to 1,000. 

An Oregon Health & Science University forecast predicts hospitalizations will soar past 1,600 then quickly fall back. Neither Allen nor the health authority have said what data would determine lifting the mandate.

“OHA can rescind or cancel the rule when public health doctors believe it’s no longer necessary to stop the virus from spreading at a high rate and putting vulnerable people at risk of being hospitalized or dying,” Rudy Owens, an agency spokesman, said in an email.

To comment:

Testify during a video conference starting 10 a.m. Thursday by signing up at publichealth.rules@dhsoha.state.or.us;

call 971-277-2343, conference ID: 38937445#, to participate by phone.

Email publichealth.rules@dhsoha.state.or.us.

Fax 971-673-129 by Monday at 5 p.m. Monday. 

Write to OHA, Public Health Division Administrative Rules Coordinator

800 N.E. Oregon Street, Suite 930 Portland, Oregon 97232

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.