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Oregon now most restrictive state on West Coast when it comes to mask rules

FILE -- A sign reminds customers to wear their masks at a bakery in Lake Oswego, Ore., on Friday, May 21, 2021. (AP File Photo/Gillian Flaccus)
FILE -- A sign reminds customers to wear their masks at a bakery in Lake Oswego, Ore., on Friday, May 21, 2021. (AP File Photo/Gillian Flaccus)
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Starting Tuesday, Oregon's mask rules will be the most restrictive on the West Coast.

California will ditch masks in most situations for fully vaccinated people on Tuesday. Washington has done the same for weeks now. But Oregon officials still require businesses to verify the vaccination status of customers who want to go mask-less.

"I do think the idea of having some way of verifying vaccination status or pairing that with certain behaviors like masking or social distancing is the right approach," said Dr. Joshua Liao, a behavioral scientist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington.

Despite that endorsement for vaccine verification, Liao says governmental policies can conflict with human behavior.

KATU asked Liao about the large volume of cross-border travel between Portland and Vancouver and whether Oregonians who experience different pandemic rules in Washington would come to resent their own rules.

"We cue off of others in terms of what we ought to do, and when we see others around us not conforming to certain rules or polices, it increases the likelihood that we won't follow those policies either," said Liao. "If Portlanders go to other areas where they don't have the certain policies or rules, you can imagine, potentially, that seeing that behavior may undercut the commitment to doing that even in the areas where there are those policies."

Liao says particular policies, like requiring businesses to verify vaccine status if they want to allow mask-less customers, work best when proper messaging is associated with them.

KATU reached out to Gov. Kate Brown's office and asked if the state would stick to the plan of waiting for a 70% vaccination goal before masks could be ditched in most cases. A spokesperson sent the following statement:

To reiterate, businesses are not required to implement vaccine verification. All businesses have the option to maintain their current mask and physical distancing measures.

The science is clear: vaccines are very effective in keeping people safe from COVID-19. In Oregon, we updated our guidance to align with the CDC’s recommendations for best practices following that science. That CDC announcement came with no advance warning to states and almost immediately caused confusion in Oregon and states across the country. Oregon’s guidance was meant to give businesses options following the CDC’s announcement, and to give them an opportunity to choose what works best for their business model, between implementing new verification procedures, or keeping their current health and safety measures in place.

The majority of businesses are choosing to continue requiring masks. And, when Oregon reaches a 70% first dose vaccination rate for people 18 and older, most mask requirements will be lifted, with some limited exceptions in line with federal guidance, such as airports and health care settings. Our office has heard the concerns from the business community, retail workers, and others loud and clear, and we have continued to refine our approach. Allowing for vaccinated sections for venues and businesses is an example of that––with vaccine verification in place, businesses and other venues can increase their maximum capacity.

As the Governor has made very clear, this is an interim step, as we work to reach our 70% statewide vaccination goal and close Oregon’s equity gaps. Seventy percent is an important threshold in showing widespread vaccination statewide––and, in the time it takes Oregon to reach 70%, case counts and hospitalizations should continue to fall. We are very close. The more quickly people get vaccinated, the sooner we will reach that goal.

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