PORTLAND: As states around the country lift Covid-19 restrictions, Oregon is poised to go the opposite direction – and many residents are fuming about it.
A top health official is considering indefinitely extending rules requiring masks and social distancing in all businesses in the state. The proposal would keep the rules in place until they are “no longer necessary to address the effects of the pandemic in the workplace.”
Michael Wood, administrator of the state’s department of Occupational Safety and Health, said the move is necessary to address a technicality in state law that requires a “permanent” rule to keep current restrictions from expiring.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” he said.
But the idea has prompted a flood of angry responses, with everyone from parents to teachers to business owners and employees crying government overreach.
Wood’s agency received a record number of public comments, mostly critical, and nearly 60,000 residents signed a petition against the proposal.
Opponents also are upset government officials won’t say how low Oregon’s COVID-19 case numbers must go, or how many people would have to be vaccinated, to get the requirements lifted in a state that’s already had some of the nation’s strictest safety measures.
“When will masks be unnecessary? What scientific studies do these mandates rely on, particularly now that the vaccine is days away from being available to everyone?” said state Sen. Kim Thatcher, a Republican from Keizer, near the state’s capital. “Businesses have had to play ‘mask cop’ for the better part of a year now. They deserve some certainty on when they will no longer be threatened with fines.”
Wood said he is reviewing all the feedback to see if changes are needed before he makes a final decision by May 4, when the current rules lapse.
Oregon, a blue state, has been among those with the country’s most stringent COVID-19 restrictions and now stands in contrast with much of the rest of the nation as vaccines become more widely available.
At least six states – Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota and Texas – have lifted mask mandates,

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