Multnomah County Public Health is strongly recommending that everyone 5 and older wear masks in all indoor public spaces, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
In issuing its recommendation Monday, Multnomah County joined other jurisdictions that have issued similar advisories, including the World Health Organization, though the CDC has yet to make a similar recommendation.
Gov. Kate Brown suspended the state’s mask mandate at the end of June, leaving masking regulations up to individual business and properties. Since then COVID-19 cases have risen in Oregon, primarily among people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19. Multnomah County officials blame an increase in social activities and the spread of the delta variant.
Studies showing that universal masking reduces the risk of infection by at least 70% influenced the recommendation, according to Multnomah County public health director Jessica Guernsey.
“We have an opportunity to make a difference in our county’s case rates right now. But if we don’t act, we can expect an exponential rise in cases, especially in pockets with low vaccinations. This could lead to preventable hospitalizations and even death,” Guernsey said in a statement. “Masking is a step we can all take right now to keep businesses open and move ahead with our plans for the school year. This is the thing that will make a difference.”
County health officials are particularly worried about the delta variant, which is roughly twice as contagious as earlier strains of the virus and may cause more severe illness. As a whole, the delta variant comprises about 90% of sequenced cases in the United States. Oregon is already at about 80% delta variant of recently sequenced tests.
Public health experts say people with only one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are not completely protected from COVID-19 variants, and even fully-vaccinated people can still become mildly ill and transmit the virus to others.
“Vaccination remains the very best protection against this virus and its variants, so for anyone who can, don’t wait. Get your shot,” Guernsey said in the statement. “But we need a quick course correction to protect children and other people right now. And masks offer that protection.”
Currently, in Multnomah County and nationwide, the vast majority of people getting sick, going to the hospital and dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Health experts say children as young as 2 should wear a mask if they will tolerate it.