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Gov. Brown issues new outdoor mask mandate

In this Jan. 13, 2021, file photo, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown visits the Marion County and Salem Health COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Salem. Brown on Tuesday ordered a new mask mandate for outdoor public settings effective Friday. (Abigail Dollins/Statesman-Journal via AP, Pool, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — People in Oregon, regardless of vaccination status, will be once again be required wear masks in most public outdoor settings — including large outdoor events where physical distancing is not possible — beginning on Friday.

The outdoor mask mandate, which was announced Tuesday by Gov. Kate Brown, is part of a growing list of statewide mandates implemented in Oregon in an attempt to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19. Over the past month coronavirus cases, fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant, has overwhelmed hospitals in the Pacific Northwest state.

“The Delta variant is spreading fast and wide, throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic. Cases and hospitalizations are at a record high,” Brown 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.

Health officials say part of the reasoning for the new mandate is because they are seeing instances where cases are clustering around outdoor events, such as music festivals.

The new mandate requires masks for all individuals in outdoor settings in which individuals from different households are unable to consistently maintain physical distance. However, the rule does not apply to “fleeting encounters”, such as two individuals walking by one another on a trail or in a park.

While the rule does not apply to outdoor gatherings at private residences with individuals from different households, the Oregon Health Authority strongly recommends that people wear a mask during those scenarios.

Currently, anyone who is 5 and older are required to wear masks in public indoor areas, including grocery stores, businesses, restaurants and gyms.

In addition, the governor has announced that staff and volunteers in K-12 schools, health care workers and state employees are required to be vaccinated by fully vaccinated by Oct. 18

Oregon, once described as a success story for limiting the spread of the coronavirus, after its Democratic governor imposed some of the nation’s strictest safety measures — which were lifted on June 30 — is now being hammered by delta variant.

On Monday there were just 47 adult intensive care unit beds available in the state, with 937 COVID-19 patients hospitalizes. Currently more than 90% of the state's ICU and hospital beds are full.

About 1,500 guard troops have been dispatched to hospitals around the state by Brown.

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 newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.