In Short

Health officials urge Oregonians to mask up indoors, especially in schools

By: - May 12, 2022 2:44 pm

Multnomah County’s health officer said educators and school children should wear makes to protect their well-being. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

With Covid cases rising in Oregon, Multnomah County health officials advised the public on Wednesday to mask up when inside public places.

The Oregon Health Authority said Thursday that those at risk for severe disease should consider doing so.

“The Multnomah County Health Department’s recommendation is eminently reasonable,” Dr. Paul Cieslak, Oregon’s communicable disease director told the Capital Chronicle. “While there is no mask requirement statewide, except in some settings such as health care facilities, OHA continues to inform residents they can and should feel comfortable putting on a mask if they feel that they’re at high risk. Wearing a proper fitting face covering, such as a KN95 or N95 mask, still provides a significant level of protection.”

Cieslak said people with compromised immune systems or certain medical conditions could become ill even if they are vaccinated and boosted. 

Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County’s health officer, said educators and school children should wear masks.

“The academic success, social well-being and mental health of our kids should be a top priority,” Vines said in a statement. “That’s why we strongly recommend indoor masking in schools.”

Treatment options

For more information, check the Oregon Health Authority’s webpage for treatments.

Health officials said those at high risk – which includes older people – should get tested as soon as they develop symptoms and check with their doctor about treatment.

“Treatment is now widely available in Oregon,” Cieslak wrote. 

Options include pills and infusions, like remdesivir, which used to be in short supply. If taken early, it can reduce the chance of needing hospital care. Paxlovid, a pill that’s taken over five days, also has been shown to prevent serious illness.

The agency has logged nearly 1,300 new cases a day over the past week. That’s as high as last winter’s surge and is approaching the level seen last summer during the delta surge when hospitals were running out of beds, according to Peter Graven, the lead Covid forecaster at Oregon Health & Science University. 

On Sept. 1, when delta hospitalizations peaked, 1,178 people with Covid were hospitalized in Oregon. On Thursday, Oregon’s Covid hospitalization count was 226, including 32 people in intensive care, Cieslak said. That compares with 88 hospitalizations nearly a month ago, with 14 in intensive care.

Graven expects hospitalizations to peak at 321 around June 10. 

The BA.2 strain is behind the current surge. Scientists say it appears to be the most infectious variant to date. The strain became dominant in Oregon in March and now account for all cases, health authority data show. According to health officials, vaccines are effective against BA.2. As of Thursday, nearly three quarters of all Oregonians were vaccinated, and another 38% had received at least one booster dose. People 50 and over qualify for a second booster four months after their first one. Oregon’s vaccination rate has stemmed hospitalizations, Cieslak said.

Nevertheless, people continue to die. The total reached 7,548 people in Oregon on Thursday. Nationwide, the fatalities are near 1 million. In their memory, Gov. Kate Brown ordered flags on public buildings to be lowered to half staff until sunset May 16.

“I hope that as we remember all those we have lost, we collectively continue to help protect each other from this disease,” Brown said in a statement.


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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.