Oregon to Require Masks in Public Outdoor Settings

Madeline Farber

August 25, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Face masks will soon be required in public outdoor settings in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown announced this week. The rule, which takes effect on Friday, will apply to anyone attending a crowded outdoor event, regardless of vaccination status.

Her decision was largely driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant, which is "throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic," she said in a statement on Tuesday. "Cases and hospitalizations are at a record high."

For context: On Tuesday alone, Oregon added 2,804 confirmed and presumed cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 260,425, according to the Oregon Health Authority. About 1,000 people are hospitalized due to the virus, "a pandemic high," said Dean Sidelinger, MD, the state health officer.

The number of empty ICU beds is dwindling across the state. As of Tuesday, only 45 of the total 667 adult ICU beds were available. Hospitals in Oregon are so overwhelmed that some have placed patients in hallways rather than rooms, The Associated Press reported.

"Masks are a quick and simple tool we can immediately deploy to protect ourselves and our families, and quickly help stop further spread of COVID-19," Brown continued, noting that the Delta variant has made masks a "necessary measure right now, even in some outdoor settings, to help fight COVID and protect one another."

The rule will apply to anyone attending a large outdoor event in public where social distancing is not possible, like at a music festival or concert. It does not apply to "fleeting encounters," state officials said, such as passing another person on the street or on a hiking trail. Some people are exempt from the measure, such as children under the age of 5, those who are actively eating or drinking, or those who are playing or practicing a competitive sport. (Other exemptions can be found here.)

The rule does not apply to those who attend outdoor gatherings at a friend or family member's home. But the Oregon Health Authority "strongly recommends masking for outdoor gatherings at private residences when individuals from different households do not consistently maintain physical distance," according to the governor's announcement.

Brown also urged anyone who has not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine to do so, as the "combination of vaccines and masks is the most powerful way we can fight this latest surge of COVID-19 and save lives,"

As of Monday, about 2.4 million people in Oregon, or about 71.4%, had received at least one vaccine dose. Roughly 2.2 million Oregonians are considered fully vaccinated, according to official estimates. (About 3.4 million people in Oregon are over the age of 18.)

"Vaccination continues to be the best way you can protect yourself and your family from the Delta variant, and the most effective way we can help our exhausted nurses and doctors, who are working around the clock to treat Oregonians sick with COVID in our ICUs -- the majority of which are unvaccinated individuals," said Brown. "With the full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine this week, we have additional reassurance that the vaccines are safe and effective."


The Associated Press: "Masks to be required in Oregon's outdoor public settings."

State of Oregon Newsroom: "Governor Kate Brown Announces Statewide Outdoor Mask Requirements."