No more face masks

It’s a moment many of us have been looking forward to for a long time — finally ditching that face mask and once again breathing unobstructed air. But there are exceptions, and the new mask-free zones are quite likely to result in considerable controversy among those who are not part of that club.

On Tuesday, the Oregon Health Authority issued new guidelines for wearing masks and physical distancing both indoors and outdoors in the state. This came on the heels of an announcement last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 could stop wearing masks and stop physical distancing in most public spaces. Shortly after that, Gov. Kate Brown announced that Oregon would be following the CDC’s guidance and that more information would be coming soon. She described it as “another sign that as more people become fully vaccinated, the closer we are to ending this pandemic.”

This news is great for those people who have been vaccinated — not so good for those who have chosen not to get the shot, or those who are unable to.

In either case, vaccinated or not, masks are no longer required in outdoor settings, but OHA strongly recommends that people who are not vaccinated or who are at high risk continue to wear face coverings in crowded outdoor situations.

As far as indoor settings, only those who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed to go without a mask. A “fully vaccinated individual” is a person who has received both doses of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or one dose of a single-dose vaccine and at least 14 days have passed since the individual’s final shot. There are exceptions: masks will still be required on public transportation and in schools, hospitals and clinics, homeless shelters, youth and adult correctional facilities and long-term care facilities.

That said, businesses do still have the option of insisting customers wear a mask in their establishments. However, according to the OHA guidelines released Tuesday, if businesses, employers and faith institutions decide to let vaccinated individuals go maskless, they must require visitors to show proof of vaccination and then review that proof.

And there’s the rub. Businesses, employers and faith institutions will be required to take on the role of vaccination police, and without a doubt, it will result in conflict. Yes, in light of these new rules, some people will be motivated to get the vaccine, and we think that’s a good thing. But there are also those who are adamantly opposed to getting the shot, and it’s likely many of these will see this new guidance as yet another example of government intrusion into their lives.

To be honest, we don’t know what the answer to this one is, but we probably all saw this coming. We are, without a doubt, much closer to the end of this long, dark COVID tunnel, but there definitely more wrinkles to be ironed out.

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