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Oregon closing in on vaccination goal and reopening economy

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday that Oregon is close to lifting mask, physical distancing and capacity restrictions statewide.

Last month, Brown set a vaccination goal of 70% of Oregon adults receiving at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine before reopening the economy. As of Friday, 66% of people who are 18 or older in the state had been vaccinated.

“I want to be very clear that we are able to reopen like this because of the efficiency of the vaccines,” Brown said. “However there are still Oregonians who need to take extra precautions to feel and stay safe.”

For more than a year Oregon has faced some of the nation's strictest safety measures — county risk levels, mask requirements inside and outside, limited gatherings and restaurants closed for indoor dining. But as vaccination numbers increase, restrictions have been loosened as the state shifts from emergency response to pandemic recovery.

“The science is clear, vaccines are very effective in keeping people safe from COVID-19 and they are key to returning to normal life and lifting health and safety restrictions," Brown said.

Last month, Brown set statewide and county vaccination targets, with the hope of reopening the state’s economy by the end of June. Another 127,000 people must be vaccinated to reach the goal of 70%.

“This has really become a tale of two pandemics. If you are vaccinated then you’re safe, you can carry on safely without wearing a mask and social distancing,” Brown said. “If you are not vaccinated, this virus still poses a very real threat.”

The vaccination target for individual counties is 65% of adults in the area. Once a county reaches the goal, they move into the “lower risk” category which allows a county to significantly reduce its COVID-19 restrictions — 50% capacity for indoor dining, theaters, gyms and other indoor entertainment spaces.

It also allows expansion of indoor gatherings to 10 people and retail store capacity to 75%. Currently, 19 of Oregon's 36 counties are listed in the “lower risk” level.

However, once the state reaches its target, restrictions will be loosened more. County-based metrics would be dropped and health and safety guidance for businesses, venues and faith organizations would be lifted.

In addition, masks and face coverings would no longer be required in most settings, with some exceptions including airports, public transit and health care settings.

Because the same mask and social distancing rules would apply for all individuals, the controversial vaccine verification would no longer be necessary, Brown said.

However, health officials “strongly recommended” that unvaccinated individuals continue to wear a mask once restrictions are lifted.

Children who are younger than 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated. Brown said local schools will still be guided by health and safety grules, including mask wearing.

Brown said she expects K-12 schools will return to fulltime in the fall.

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Sara Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local news