Multnomah County, Portland reinstate indoor mask mandate
Everyone age 5 and up must wear masks in Multnomah County in indoor public spaces starting Friday, Aug. 13, regardless of vaccination status.
The city of Portland also will reinstate a mask mandate.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury announced the new mandate at a virtual press conference Monday, Aug. 9. After the conference, the city of Portland announced its mandate, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown called on local leaders to "take action now" and institute mask requirements.
"Today's action brings consistency to expectations and minimizes confusion in the public indoor spaces across our county," Kafoury said.
Kafoury led the Monday press conference to discuss new county measures to combat the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant, which is causing a spike in infections in Oregon and across the country.
She was joined by Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines, Oregon Rep. Maxine Dexter, Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and various health leaders from Kaiser Permanente, Legacy Health and Oregon Health & Science University. Dexter is a physician as well as a lawmaker.
While mandating indoor mask use, Kafoury said, "But I want to be clear that the best, most effective step that people can take to protect themselves and to protect each other is to get fully vaccinated."
Vines reaffirmed the efficacy and safety of the vaccines and said public health officials are pursuing realistic goals going forward.
"We are not trying to prevent every case of COVID-19, that's not possible, it's not realistic," Vines said. "We need to slow the spread with the tools we have, which right now are vaccines and masks."
Dr. Renee Edwards with OHSU said people should follow at least two of the following three guidelines: wear masks, gather outdoors and physically distance whenever possible.
"Oregon has successfully stemmed this tide before and I'm truly sorry that we're asking you to do it again, but it really must be done," Edwards said. "If we don't do something today, more people will die."
Multnomah County is the first in Oregon to reinstate a mask mandate this summer, Kafoury said. The county spent much of 2020 and part of this year under a mask mandate before vaccination rates rose, and before the delta variant hit the area.
Dexter said others should follow suit: "We need national, state and local leaders to rise to the occasion like leaders here today in Multnomah County," she said. "To follow the science and to implement and voice support for safety measure like masking and vaccines that keep communities safe from this deadly virus."
Kafoury said the new mandate will be enforced much like Multnomah County enforces tobacco restrictions. The county will open a service for residents to call in concerns, and if needed, issue fines up to $1,000.
"We would rather not issue fines, we would rather not have people self-policing their neighbors, but we want to be clear, apparently when we made the very strongly worded recommendation at the end of July, people didn't get the message," Kafoury said.
The official executive order and more details will be released Wednesday, Aug. 11, Kafoury said. She said she hopes the mandate will work, she said, but the county is open to considering other COVID-19 guidelines if needed "to save people's lives."
January 2022 is a tentative end date for the mandate, Vines said, but as immunity levels go up — hopefully through vaccination, and not infection — the mandate could be lifted before then, but the county hasn't identified any specific metrics yet.
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