Brown, a Democrat, announced the mandate on Tuesday, saying it would go into effect on Friday.
“The Delta variant is spreading fast and wide, throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic,” she said in a statement. “Masks are a quick and simple tool we can immediately deploy to protect ourselves and our families, and quickly help stop further spread of Covid-19.”
The mandate will apply in all outdoor settings where people are unable to consistently maintain physical distance from each other. People walking alone or with family in open parks and on trails, for example, will not have to mask up.
Neither will homeless people, children under five, people actively eating and drinking, or people playing competitive sports.
More than 55% of Oregonians aged 18 and over are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and over 60% have had at least one dose of a vaccine. These people will have to wear masks regardless.
Despite the high uptake in vaccination, Oregon is currently experiencing higher weekly Covid case numbers than at any time during the pandemic to date, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Deaths, however, remain lower than they were at the beginning of the year, with the seven-day daily average currently standing at 11, compared to 28 in mid-January.
The new mandate comes just a week after Brown reinstated Oregon’s indoor mask mandate, which was only lifted in June, having been in place for a year. Some county and city authorities, however, have implemented their own outdoor masking requirements in recent weeks.
Oregon’s hospitals are particularly vulnerable to overcrowding. A 2018 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Oregon had among the lowest ICU space per capita in the US, with only about 1.6 beds per 1,000 residents. While this usually means that the state can save money by making efficient use of these beds, even a moderate increase in serious Covid cases threatens to overwhelm capacity.
As of Tuesday afternoon, only 47 ICU beds were free across the entire state of 4.2 million people.
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