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Oregon Governor Says Businesses Can Stop Requiring Masks if They Verify Their Patrons Are Vaccinated

It’s a dramatic change from the end of April, when the governor shut down restaurants in Portland and much of the state for a week.

Following new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Gov. Kate Brown declared that businesses in Oregon could stop requiring masks and social distancing—so long as they mandated COVID-19 vaccination for anyone who entered their buildings maskless.

The sudden announcement appeared to permit a near-complete return to pre-pandemic normalcy for vaccinated people. The governor’s new policy appears intended to motivate people still on the fence about getting a COVID-19 vaccination.

“Oregonians now have a choice of how to protect themselves and others from COVID-19: either get vaccinated, or continue wearing a mask and following physical distancing requirements,” Brown said in a statement.

But it may increase resentment among segments of the population who resist vaccines—that is, right-wing Republicans—and raises questions for those who can’t get vaccinated, like people who are immunocompromised and children under the age of 12.

Oregon’s announcement followed a declaration from the CDC that it is safe for vaccinated people to socialize, indoors and outdoors, without wearing a mask or staying far apart.

In response, Brown said businesses could lift their requirements for masks and 6 feet of distance between people, so long as those shops and restaurants confirmed that those patrons had received a COVID-19 vaccination.

“In the coming days, the Oregon Health Authority will be providing updated guidance for businesses, employers, and others to allow the option of lifting mask and physical distancing requirements after verifying vaccination status,” she said. “Some businesses may prefer to simply continue operating under the current guidance for now, rather than worrying about verifying vaccination status, and that’s fine.”

The decision to offer a way for businesses to drop the mask mandate is a seismic shift from the end of May, when Brown shut down restaurants and bars for indoor dining in Portland and much of the state as cases and hospitalizations mounted.

The decision comes as Oregon marked the second week in a row in which cases counts had fallen. The average daily cases counts fell 12% in the week ending May 9. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 as of May 13 remain at 351 people. The announcement also came the day after the Pfizer vaccine was approved for anyone 12 and up.

One key question Gov. Brown did not address was whether Oregon’s new rules meant increased capacity for restaurants, bars and venues. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee today said sports stadiums could return to full capacity, so long as they required proof of vaccination for everyone in the crowd.

As WW wrote in this week’s paper, such an idea was considered by the Portland Trail Blazers but never presented to Oregon health officials because the team assumed Brown would reject it.

Brown’s spokesman Charles Boyle tells WW that many details are still being ironed out. “We’d ask fully vaccinated Oregonians for their patience, and to comply with posted mask and physical distancing regulations while Oregon’s guidance is being updated,” he said.

Correction: After WW published this story, Oregon health officials clarified that businesses could not require proof of vaccination for anyone who set foot inside their buildings, but must instead create two standards for patrons with vaccinations and those without.