Multnomah County health officials are strongly recommending that everyone 2 years old and over wear masks in all indoor public spaces, even if they have been vaccinated for COVID-19.
The recommendation released Monday, July 26, is in response to the spread of the Delta variant of the virus, which is roughly twice as contagious, even though it is not more lethal.
"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," said Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey.
In the past three weeks, Oregon has seen new coronavirus cases rise by 243%. Nearly 3,000 cases were recorded in the state this week, the highest weekly total since mid-May. As of last Friday, there have been 214,869 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Oregon, and 2,836 deaths.
According to the county, studies show that universal masking reduces the risk of infection by at least 70%.
"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," said Guernsey.
In issuing its recommendation, the county joins other jurisdictions that have issued similar advisories, including Seattle-King County, Los Angeles County and San Francisco Bay Area counties, and the cities of Savannah, Ga., Long Beach, Calif., and Philadelphia.
The county also encourage businesses to download and post a Health Department sign encouraging mask wearing indoors found here.
The county said that as a whole, the Delta variant comprises about 90% of sequenced cases in the United States. The state of Oregon is already at about 80% Delta variant of recently sequenced tests.
Currently, in Multnomah County and nationwide, the vast majority of people getting sick, going to the hospital and dying from COVID-19 at this time are unvaccinated. Fully vaccinated people — such as those with two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or a single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine —appear to be well-protected from severe disease and death with Delta variants, the county said. However, people with only one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine are not as well-protected. 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. But we need a quick course correction to protect children and other people right now. And masks offer that protection," said Guernsey.
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