PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - As COVID-19 cases in Oregon surge and hospitals fill up, officials in Multnomah County announced on Monday they are reimplementing an indoor mask mandate.
People 5 and older — vaccinated and unvaccinated — in Multnomah County will be required to wear masks in indoor public spaces including stores, restaurants and gyms. The mandate goes into effect on Friday.
In addition, officials say that “for the first time” the mandate will be “accompanied by an enforcement mechanism” that includes up to $1,000 fines.
“The more contagious Delta variant has changed the game. Our hospitals are full,” said Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “And we now know that while the vaccine protects us really well from serious illness, it may not always stop us from spreading the virus. An across-the-board mandate buys us time to protect more people with vaccine.’’
The county's decision to reimplement mask mandates comes as Oregon physicians and nurses say they are overwhelmed and that hospital space is severely limited as more and more people need care due to COVID-19.
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As of Friday, 496 people are hospitalized in Oregon due to COVID-19. Based on data from the state health authority, the state’s record of people hospitalized was 622 during November’s surge when vaccine doses were not yet available.
Earlier this month, Gov. Kate Brown announced that the state will require students and staff in K-12 schools to wear masks indoors this fall and that state employees, visitors or customers must wear masks in any indoor state agency regardless of their vaccination status.
In addition the state health authority made a statewide recommendation that people, vaccinated or not, wear masks while in indoor public spaces, but stopped short of reinstating an indoor mask mandate.
The governor said it is up to county officials to implement or issue mask mandates.
Some counties, including Benton, have issued mask mandates for county agency buildings. However, officials say that Multnomah is the first county in the state to require masks in all indoor public spaces.
“If we reach high levels of immunity this fall, we might be able to reduce mask use before January,” Vines said. “But if other variants emerge or we see other concerning trends, it could be longer than that.”
Multnomah has the second highest vaccine rate in the state — 75% of adults in the area are fully or partially adults vaccinated.
It is unclear whether statewide coronavirus-related safety measures will be reimplemented, by the governor, if cases and hospitalizations continue to increase.
Officials said that while “nothing is off the table” there is no “hardline” for if and when further statewide safety mandates would return.