As Oregon’s mask mandate ends, it’s up to each business to chart what’s next

By Rob Manning (OPB) and Kristian Foden-Vencil (OPB)
May 14, 2021 10:21 p.m. Updated: May 15, 2021 12:14 a.m.

Restaurants and shops that don’t require masks will be expected to confirm customers vaccination status, state officials said.

Oregon public health officials are providing more details on this week’s announcement that fully vaccinated people will be allowed to go without masks in most situations. Gov. Kate Brown announced Oregon’s decision to relax mask mandates Thursday, shortly after guidance was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a press conference Friday morning, state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said the decision gives Oregonians two choices: either get vaccinated, or continue wearing face coverings and following physical distancing.


A similar choice faces Oregon businesses, Sidelinger suggested. But restaurants and retail shops that want to allow people who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 to avoid wearing masks will have to confirm the vaccination status of customers, he said.

Two people wear face masks near a supermarket shopping cart.

An OPB file photo of shoppers wearing masks outside a Costco in Tigard, Oregon, early in the pandemic. Stores in the state are now allowed to allow COVID-19 vaccinated shoppers to go mask-free, but they first must verify vaccine status.

Arya Surowidjojo/OPB

“Businesses should have a plan to either keep the current guidance in place, where they require physical distancing and masking for everyone, or implement a plan where they’re checking the vaccination status of those who come in,” Sidelinger told reporters Friday.


And for people who can prove they’ve been vaccinated? “

“Those individuals could be allowed in that business without wearing a mask and with less physical distancing,” Sidelinger said.

The Oregon Health Authority is working on further guidance that Sidelinger said will be out soon, but he declined to give a firm date of its release.

The relaxed rules don’t appear to be leading people in Portland to immediately drop their masks. In several neighborhoods and shopping centers, most people continued wearing masks and keeping distant, particularly around public schools, where such steps are still required.

Related: Oregon’s new mask rule generates more questions than answers

Meantime, the state’s system of county risk levels is still in place, limiting capacity in restaurants and stores.

Brown has said those will restrictions be eliminated when at least 70% of Oregonians age 16 and older have gotten at least one vaccine dose. Sidelinger said restrictions could be eliminated on a county basis under certain criteria, including having at least 65% of residents 16 and older at least partially vaccinated.


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