Gov. Kate Brown expanded a mandatory mask order on Tuesday to include large outdoor gatherings as well well as indoor events.
The order came as spiraling COVID-19 numbers were reported Tuesday by the Oregon Health Authority:
- 30 deaths - the most in a single day in nearly six months
- 1,000 patients in state hospitals.
- 283 patients in intensive care units
- 2,804 new cases
The 30 reported deaths pushed the monthly total to 189, tying August for the fourth deadliest month of the 18-month pandemic - with a week to go. December 2020 had a record 603 deaths.
Brown announced the new indoor masking rules Tuesday morning before the daily OHA statistics were announced.
The Oregon Health & Science University forecast last week that the highly contagious delta variant that hit the state seven weeks ago would lead to skyrocketing case rates that won't peak until early next month.
The new mandate calls for anyone aged 5 or over to wear a mask at outdoor public gatherings regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated. Wearing masks at private outdoor gatherings was recommended, but not required.
Masks are already required for indoor public gatherings.
“The delta variant is spreading fast and wide, throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic," Brown said in a Tuesday afternoon announcement. "Cases and hospitalizations are at a record high.”
The immediate impact will be on those going to outdoor sports events, fairs and large gatherings. The Oregon State Fair in Salem begins Aug. 27 and for the Pendleton Round-Up Sept. 11. Masks will be required for any college football game as well.
Epidemiologists around the nation have noted an increase in infections that cannot be traced to an indoor spread.
“We are starting to see instances where cases are clustering around events, like outdoor music festivals, that happen outdoors,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist in the statement.
A sharp spike in COVID-19 have increased twelve-fold in Oregon since July, filling hospitalsl to near capacity. Unvaccinated Oregonians have become sicker longer when infected.
The Oregon Health Authority reported just 9% of adult staffed hospital beds and 7% of adult staffed Intensive Care Unit beds in the state were available on Tuesday. OHA has forecast it will be 500 beds short at the peak of the spike, when daily cases rates could top 5,000 under some scenarios.
August is on pace to be the fourth deadliest month of the pandemic, typing February with 189 cases - and still seven days to go until September.
Because early vaccination efforts centered on older and medically fragile people, OHA has said the state will not see the 603 deaths reported in December. But the spread of the delta variant is increasing the overall population of those infected, which will lead to a upturn in deaths.
Monday's totals brought the state to 260,425 cases. The death total stands at 3,066.
The extension of the rules to outdoors events has some of the same exemptions as the existing indoor mandate.
People do not need to wear masks while drinking, eating or sleeping.
Masks are not required for those singing, speaking or otherwise performing in a public setting, during sports games or training.
An exception is made for homeless people.
The order comes as the state is hammered by the highly contagious delta variant that has driven infection levels above those of last winter.
Hospitalizations have overwhelmed medical centers across the state and forecast with a peak in infections not expected until early next month as the virus runs out of unvaccinated people to easily infect.
The number of daily vaccinations begun has averaged 3,533 over the past week. While a slight increase from prior periods, its well below the 50,000 new inoculations a day recorded some days in April.
The new infections and hospitalizations have hit hardest in counties where vaccination levels have been low.
OHA reports just over 71% of eligible adults in Oregon have had at least one shot of vaccine. But the numbers vary widely by county.
Washington County, the state's second most populous, is at 77.8%, and the first most populous, Multnomah County, is at 76.8%.
At the other end of the spectrum, nine counties are yet to get a shot into half their residents. Most are rural counties with smaller populations, like Lake County has started shots on 39.1% and Malheur is at 40.1%.
But Douglas County (49.6%) and Umatilla County (47.1%) are among counties classified as "larger" by the state for pandemic response statistics.
Increases in vaccination rates over the past week were highest in Douglas and Josephine counties, both up 2.5%, followed by Umatilla and Sherman counties at 2.4%.
Because of the speed of the spread of the delta variant, health officials say it is too late for the most effective two-shot Moderna or Pfizer vaccinations to have full effect before the current spike spreads throughout communities.
The only way to partially blunt the expected peak of infections and hospitalizations is by expanded masking at least until the spike levels out and drops dramatically.
“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," Brown said.