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Oregon health officials release updated mask guidance

May 19, 2021 GMT

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Under updated mask guidelines in Oregon, which were released Tuesday, businesses can now choose whether or not customers will still be required to wear a mask.

But in order to do that, customers must provide proof that they have been fully vaccinated.

“If (businesses, employers and faith institutions) have a process to review vaccination records and show that people are fully vaccinated, they’re free to serve customers in that manner,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state’s epidemiologist. “If they don’t want to, or cannot implement a system like that, they can continue to operate under the OHA (Oregon Health Authority) guidance that requires masks and physical distancing.”

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Everyone — vaccinated or not— is still required to wear a mask while on public transportation and in schools, hospitals and clinics, homeless shelters, correctional facilities and long-term care facilities.

In addition, mask requirements are no longer applied to anyone who is outdoors, although health officials recommend that people continue to wear a mask in crowded areas and in large gatherings.

However, businesses, employers and faith institutions can choose to no longer require masks and physical distancing for fully vaccinated people, defined as individuals who received their second COVID-19 vaccine dose at least two weeks prior.

But if a business decides to allow fully vaccinated people to not be required to wear a mask, those individuals must provide proof of their status in the form of a vaccination card or a photo of the card on their phone. In addition, the business must review the proof.

If businesses decide not to implement a “policy for checking the vaccination status of customers and employees,” then everyone in that building will still be required to wear masks.

Many have questioned how businesses will be able to check the authenticity of vaccination cards. Some worry that proof will be forged.

“We hope that Oregonians will not lie or cheat and put others at risk by forging a vaccine record if they are not vaccinated,” Sidelinger said. “Individuals who choose not to (get vaccinated) or don’t want to share that they have already been vaccinated can wear a mask and keep their distance while being served by the business.”

Oregon’s new mask guidance comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 could stop wearing masks and stop physical distancing in most public spaces.

“(Last) week’s announcement from the CDC emphasizes the point that safe and effective vaccines are the very best way to protect people from getting and spreading COVID,” said Patrick Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority. “That’s why it’s safer for life to look more like normal for people who are fully vaccinated. And why people who haven’t had a chance to get vaccinated should do so as soon as they can.”

Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown pointed to the CDC announcement as “another sign that as more people become fully vaccinated, the closer we are to ending this pandemic.”

Oregonians have been required to wear masks — inside public spaces such as grocery stores, shops, gyms and restaurants and outside where people cannot remain six feet apart from others — since last summer.

Brown said she is hopeful that the state’s economy will soon reopen if people continue to be vaccinated and reach goals she set earlier this month.

On Tuesday, Brown announced that five Oregon counties have reached the county vaccine threshold — 65% of the county’s population who are 16 or older have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

By reaching that target Benton, Deschutes, Hood River, Lincoln and Washington counties will move to the state’s lowest risk category allowing for increased capacity — 50% — in restaurants, theaters, gyms and other indoor entertainment spaces.

Brown also set a state vaccination goal of 70% of the state’s population who is 16 or older have received their first vaccine dose. When the state reaches the vaccination target, Brown said most of the Oregon’s restrictions, including capacity limits, will be lifted.

Currently, nearly half of Oregon’s eligible residents have received at least their first vaccine dose.

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Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local news