Oregon and Washington are ending their mask requirements for healthcare facilities.
Oregon Health Authority:
Workers, patients and visitors in health care settings will no longer be required to wear masks starting April 3, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) announced today.
OHA is rescinding provisions in Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR) 333-019-1011 that require workers in health care settings – such as hospitals, mobile clinics, ambulances, outpatient facilities, dental offices, urgent care centers, counseling offices, school-based health centers, complementary and alternative medicine locations – to wear masks. The requirement has been in effect since August 2021.
In addition, Executive Order 22-24 will expire on March 6, 2023. The emergency gave hospitals needed flexibility to respond to a surge in respiratory infections, including COVID-19, RSV and influenza.
The decision to end statewide health care mask requirements aligns with decisions in other states, including Washington.
Dean Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., health officer and state epidemiologist at OHA, said the lifting of Oregon’s health care mask requirement stems from data in recent weeks showing overall decreases in circulation of the three respiratory pathogens that triggered a surge in visits to hospital emergency departments and intensive care units last fall. As of today, COVID-19 test positivity is at 10% and is expected to continue dropping; influenza test positivity is at 1.2%; and RSV test positivity is at 1.6% (antigen tests) and 3.5% (molecular tests).
The month-long lead-up to the ending of Oregon’s health care mask requirement gives the health care 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.
People at higher risk for severe disease, or who live with someone at higher risk, should still consider wearing masks in health care or any settings, to better protect themselves and those most vulnerable around them. Some health care settings may continue to require masks even after the requirement is lifted.
Masks remain an effective way to reduce transmission of respiratory viruses. People are recommended to wear masks when they are sick, and individuals – particularly those with health conditions that put them at high risk for severe illness from a respiratory virus exposure–should continue to wear masks wherever they feel comfortable.
In order to protect themselves and their families and communities, people are strongly encouraged to stay up to date with vaccinations and boosters.
Washington State Department of Health:
Effective April 3, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) will end the Secretary of Health Mask Order, which currently requires universal masking in healthcare, long-term care, and adult correctional facilities for people age 5 and older.
In Washington, COVID-19, RSV, and influenza disease rates and hospitalizations have continued to decline since the end of last year. The end of Washington’s universal masking requirements aligns with similar announcement made today by the state of Oregon.
“Masks have been – and will continue to be – an important tool, along with vaccinations, to keep people healthy and safe,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “We are thankful for our health and long-term care providers, staff members, patients, and all Washingtonians, for following the important public health measures put in place during the pandemic to protect one another.”
DOH infection prevention and control guidance continues to recommend masks for patients, healthcare providers, and visitors in healthcare settings. Licensed healthcare facilities are required to have infection prevention policies and programs consistent with CDC guidance.
Several worker protection requirements enforced by the state’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) remain in effect, including that employees and contractors may choose to use facemasks or other personal protective equipment (PPE) on the job without employer retaliation. Additionally, under the state Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (HELSA) rules, several key worker protections remain in place until the federal pandemic response declaration ends May 11.
The current Secretary of Health Mask Order will remain in place until 11:59pm on April 2. Local or tribal governments, facilities, and providers may choose to continue to require masks in these or other settings.
DOH will continue to issue and update COVID prevention guidance for the public and key sectors, including the use of masks, vaccines, ventilation, and other preventive measures to inform individuals, families, communities, and health leaders on how to stay healthier from COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.