Oregon employers wonder about masking as state drops medical mandate and reports lower illness levels

By Kristian Foden-Vencil (OPB)
March 9, 2023 11:14 p.m.

Respiratory illness levels are dipping to lows not seen in years, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, described the near-term outlook as good.


“People in Oregon continue to get COVID-19 vaccine with nearly 87% of adults … having received at least one dose,” he said Thursday at the agency’s monthly update.

But as the state prepares to lift the mask mandate for health care settings on April 3, employers at other businesses are wondering what precautions make sense for their workplaces.

Signs remind visitors that masks are required at Prescott Elementary school, Feb. 8, 2022.

Signs remind visitors that masks are required at Prescott Elementary school, Feb. 8, 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB


The state says that’s up to individual businesses.

“I think employers need to assess the situation, talk to their workers, talk to their staff, and make a decision that makes the best sense for their location,” he said.

Sidelinger also asked employers to reinforce the message that if a staff member is sick, or has symptoms consistent with COVID, RSV or the flu, they should remain at home.

“Hopefully employers have paid leave policies that can support individuals in making that choice,” he said.

Keeping sick individuals out of the workplace can limit the spread of disease.

On Monday, the Oregon executive order that gave hospitals greater flexibility in responding to a surge in respiratory viruses expired. Gov. Kate Brown issued executive order 22-24 in December 2022.

“The surge caused many hospitals around the state, for the first time, to implement crisis standards of care so they could more efficiently adjust staffing and bed use to provide the best care to as many critically ill people as possible,” Sidelinger said.

Hospitalizations for respiratory infections have remained stubbornly above 200 a day in Oregon, but they too are now declining.


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