Oregon Gov. Kate Brown addressed the media Wednesday to outline her decision to require masks once again for all Oregonians in indoor public spaces. The measure is intended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant and goes into effect Friday, Aug. 13.

Brown was joined by State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger and Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen in explaining how this strain of COVID-19 is three times as infectious and is wreaking havoc on Oregon’s hospital systems.

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The state reported 2,392 cases on Tuesday, the highest number of cases on any single day since the virus hit Oregon 18 months ago.

According to Brown, ICU beds are approximately 90% full across the state, with some regions beginning the day Wednesday with fewer than five beds.

“The harsh reality is that delta is a different virus,” Brown said. “It has changed everything.”

Brown faced criticism from reporters about whether or not she regretted reopening the state just six weeks ago. At the time, the state knew the delta variant was here in Oregon and saw the problems it was causing in other parts of the country, as well as overseas in places such as Israel.

Brown replied saying she felt the state was at a point in the pandemic where “we needed to move forward.”

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“I felt strongly that local elected officials needed to step up and take action and preserve hospital bed capacity and protect their vulnerable constituents,” she said. “Clearly, that is not happening, and I’m needing to take action at this point in time.”

Brown said that the mask mandate will be in effect for the foreseeable future. She did not give a timeline for when the requirement might be rolled back.

Dr. Sidelinger said that the pandemic has reached a “dire stage” where daily infections and hospitalizations are threatening to overrun hospitals in the coming weeks.

In recent weeks, the delta variant has set records in parts of Oregon for hospitalizations. Doctors say that many of the people they’re seeing are unvaccinated, but studies have shown that vaccinated individuals with so-called breakthrough cases can still spread the virus.

“My plea today is to every Oregonian who has not yet been vaccinated: COVID-19 vaccine is saving lives,” Sidelinger said. “We can bring this surge under control by vaccinating as many people as possible. Data in Oregon reaffirms what science has long supported, just how incredibly effective all three of the available vaccines are in preventing severe COVID-19 infection, leading to hospitalization.”

OHA Director Allen said that Oregon has seen a 373% increase in the number of hospitalizations over the past six weeks, from just 134 COVID-19 patients on July 1, to 635 hospitalizations as of yesterday. He also noted that younger people are representing a growing percentage of those hospitalizations, and the delta variant is making people sicker, longer.

According to Allen, this strain on the state’s medical systems means that hospitals are being forced to postpone certain procedures to address the growing delta variant threat.

A high number of hospitalizations also means that there are fewer ICU beds available statewide to treat people who have heart attacks, hurt in accidents or face other grave medical emergencies. Allen included this fact in his plea for unvaccinated Oregonians to go out and get their shots.

“None of us expect we will want an ICU bed today, but we expect them to be there if we or our kids or other family members need one,” Allen said.

Brown also announced this week that she is requiring all executive branch employees of the state of Oregon — including all state agencies — be vaccinated by Oct. 18, exactly six weeks after the vaccine receives U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. The new requirement also includes the Oregon State Treasury, Secretary of State’s Office, Department of Justice and Bureau of Labor Industries.

“This action will ensure our state government workplaces are safe for employees, and the Oregonians we serve,” Brown said. “I strongly encourage our public and private employers to follow suit and require vaccination for their employees.”

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