PORTLAND, Oregon. (AP) – Oregon passed a controversial rule on Tuesday that extended indefinitely the requirements for a coronavirus mask and social distancing requirements for all businesses in the state.
Government officials say the rule, which has garnered thousands of public comments, will remain in place until “it is no longer necessary to consider the effects of the workplace pandemic.”
“We reviewed all comments – including the many comments that opposed the rule – and paid special attention to those comments that explained their arguments or provided specific information,” said Michael Wood, administrator of the State Department of Occupational Safety and Health. “Although we chose to move forward with the rule, the final product includes a number of changes based on this record.”
Oregon, which is among those with the strictest COVID-19 restrictions in the country, used to have a business mask rule, but it was only temporary and could not be extended after 180 days. This prompted Wood to create a permanent rule with the intention of repealing it at some point.
“Allowing COVID-19 protections in the workplace to simply disappear would leave workers far less protected. And it would leave employers who want to know what is expected of them with much less clarity than the rule suggests, “Wood said.
But the proposal provoked a flood of angry responses, with everyone from parents to teachers to business owners and employees crying for excessive government.
Wood’s agency received more than 5,000 comments – mostly critical – and nearly 70,000 residents signed a petition against the rule.
Opponents have expressed concern that there is no sunset date or specific metric when the rule will be automatically repealed. As a result, Wood said the final rule includes significantly more details about the process and the criteria that will be used to decide whether to repeal the rule.
The rule requires employers to make sure that in most circumstances people wear masks while working inside, and use face pads outside if they need to be within six feet of people. It also provides for companies to make sure that people are not a meter and a half away – unless this is practical for certain activities.
The agency said it would consider whether the rule could be repealed starting no later than July.
In addition to mask and distance requirements, the rule – which also includes requirements and guidelines for airflow, ventilation, outbreak notification and sanitary protocols – links to individual actions and restrictions by Governor Kate Brown, the latest increase in county risk levels.
Last week, Oregon reported the fastest-growing rate of COVID-19 infection in the country, and as a result Brown imposed additional restrictions in 15 counties, including a ban on indoor dining in restaurants and bars and a significant reduction in capacity in gyms and entertainment venues. closed.
The restrictions have been criticized by business owners and Republicans.
On Tuesday, these counties were moved back to a level effective on Friday, as the average annual increase in seven days for hospitalized patients with COVID-19 fell below 15%. This means that indoor dinner and other activities will be allowed.
“As Oregonians continue to be vaccinated every week, I expect us not to return to extreme risk during this pandemic,” Brown said.
So far, about a third of Oregon’s population has been fully vaccinated.
About 75% of adult intensive care beds and about 85% of non-intensive adult beds are occupied, based on data provided by the Oregon Health Authority.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Oregon have doubled in the past month, with more than 345 people hospitalized for the virus as of Tuesday.
Cline is a member of the Associated Press Corps / Report for the America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national non-profit program that puts journalists in local newsrooms to report on undisclosed issues.