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Although it leads Oregon's 36 counties in the adult COVID-19 vaccination rate, cases are trending upward.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Washington County Courthouse and other public buildings owned by Washington County and the city of Hillsboro will require masks to be worn by visitors.The Washington County government is re-instituting a requirement that county employees and visitors alike wear masks in county buildings — regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

With cases and hospitalizations trending downward, the county lifted its mask requirement in public buildings in late June. But as the delta variant drives a new surge, County Administrator Tanya Ange says the county government is again requiring that people mask up in buildings like the Washington County Courthouse, the Charles D. Cameron Public Services Building, the Washington County Sheriff's Office, and others.

COURTESY PHOTO - Tanya Ange"Washington County's core purpose is to serve the public, but we cannot do that if our actions end up helping spread a sometimes deadly yet preventable disease," Ange said in a statement announcing the new policy Friday afternoon, Aug. 6.

Additionally, Washington County employees will be required to wear masks outside when "large groups of people are gathered," according to the county statement.

Hillsboro, the county seat, announced it is also re-instating its mask requirement in city buildings Friday afternoon, minutes after the county announced its new policy.

Two city buildings will have exemptions for patrons who are either fully vaccinated or not eligible to be vaccinated, such as those under age 12. Those buildings are the Shute Park Aquatic & Recreation Center (SHARC) and at Hidden Creek Community Center for patrons.

Patrons should provide proof of vaccination prior to exercising at those facilities. Otherwise, they should wear a mask.

Washington County residents are encouraged to limit visits to county buildings, using virtual and other no-contact options when possible.

The county has encouraged people to wear masks in all indoor public places, even if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Neighboring Clackamas and Multnomah counties have said the same.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have risen in Washington County, as they have throughout Oregon and many other parts of the United States, in recent weeks. Public health experts say that rise in cases is propelled by the increasingly widespread delta variant, a mutation of the original virus that is considerably more infectious.

The surge has largely spared fully vaccinated residents in Washington County, however, according to the county government. That mirrors trends seen elsewhere, with the three vaccines authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continuing to provide strong protection against serious illness even in people who are infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

"Virtually all deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. are among unvaccinated people," said Washington County chief epidemiologist Kimberly Repp. "Breakthrough cases of COVID-19 can occur in fully vaccinated people, but these cases are rare and tend to result in mild illness."

Some 76% of Washington County residents 18 and older have been vaccinated against COVID-19, a rate that leads all of Oregon's 36 counties. But nearly 100,000 people in the county who are at least 12 — children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for any of the three vaccines — haven't yet been vaccinated, the county government says.

"As we prepare for the virus potentially being with us for a long time, we also have to remember that getting vaccinated remains the single most effective step any of us can take to finally put the pandemic behind us," said Ange.

Nearly 2,900 Oregonians have died of COVID-19 since March 2020. That number includes 259 Washington County residents.

More than 12,500 Oregonians have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.PMG FILE PHOTO - Masks will again be required in Washington County's public buildings.

By Mark Miller
Editor-in-Chief, Washington and Columbia counties
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