ERIN TIERNEY/CHRONICLE PHOTO – Lane County Public Health and Cottage Grove officials partnered for greater security around a clinic this weekend.
Mask guidelines for indoor spaces will be lifted no later than the end of March, state health officials announced this week. That’ll include mask requirements in schools, too.
By then, health experts anticipate that about 400 or fewer Oregonians would be hospitalized with COVID-19, which is the level of hospitalizations the state experienced before the Omicron variant began to spread.
However, state health officials say Oregon needs to keep mask requirements in place for now as COVID-19 hospitalizations crest and Oregon’s health care system strains to treat high numbers of severely ill patients.
“The evidence from Oregon and around the country is clear: masks save lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said Dean Sidelinger, M.D., health officer and state epidemiologist.
“We should see COVID-19 hospitalizations drop by the end of March because so many Oregonians are wearing masks and taking other steps to protect themselves and each other, such as getting a booster shot or vaccinating their children. At that point, it will be safer to lift mask requirements.”
All things considered, especially in comparison to other states, Oregonians have done well through this pandemic, boasting the third lowest cumulative COVID-19 case rate in the nation and the seventh lowest COVID-19 death rate since the start of the pandemic. Oregon’s comparatively strong compliance with mask rules and its high vaccination and booster rates have blunted the Omicron surge and – for now – prevented Oregon’s hospitals from breaking under potentially hundreds of more hospitalizations. According to data by Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), more than eight in 10 Oregonians continue to report wearing masks in public settings.
To date, COVID-19 hospitalizations have not topped the 1,178 high point of the Delta surge, despite initial projections that warned Omicron hospitalizations could more than double Delta’s zenith.
Efforts being made in creating easy access to vaccines in rural communities are proving successful. After a clinic run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency got out of Dodge on Feb. 4 due to security breaches in Bohemia Park by those in opposition to the vaccines, the county and the City of Cottage Grove partnered together to host a secure clinic behind the fenced area the Public Works Facility over the course of two days over the weekend.
People holding opposing views on the vaccination efforts peacefully interact on Saturday. (Editor’s note: Dana Merryday, in the jester’s outfit with a sign that reads ‘Covid is no joke’, participated as a local citizen, not on behalf of The Chronicle.)
Steve Adams, the Covid incident commander for the county, said public officials are making a concerted effort to bring vaccine services like this event to areas where the vaccination rate is lower in the county. Out in Florence near Dune City, for instance, vaccination rate is around 90%, while areas like Cottage Grove and Creswell are more in the 50% range.
While the event drew both groups of support and of opposition to the vaccinations, public officials said that the clinic was not interrupted by those in opposition, and there were mostly respectful disagreements between the groups.
A group of a dozen or more members from Be Your Best, a cross-sector coalition of Cottage Grove community partners, secured a permit, roped off its section near the entrance of the clinic, inflated smiley face balloons, and erected “thank you” signs for passersby as they entered the clinic site.
ERIN TIERNEY / Chronicle photo – A group supporting the vaccines received a permit to host a “Celebrate Life” event near the clinic site, with balloons, drums, and tents.
Venice Mason, who pulled the permit for Be Your Best, said that “the biggest key was people coming in and checking it out, and then leaving and coming back with their children because they felt that they could safely bring them here.” She noted that there were at least three children who were blocked from receiving the vaccine at the Bohemia Park event who were vaccinated on Friday.
The opposition, a group of four or five, sat across the street, with signs that read “The media is the real virus” and “Fauci lied, people died, crimes against humanity.” Written in sidewalk chalk they stood on the pavement which read, “Don’t Tread here: RIP to 6214 Oregon souls gone dead due to COVID.” Each group member declined to comment.
Chief of Police Scott Shepherd parked his vehicle near the entrance and stood watch, but he “had very little to do” as both groups “interacted remarkably well” together.
“I don’t think you’re gonna change their minds, right? But the reality is that they’ve gotten along,” he said.
The difference between the failed Bohemia Park clinic and this one?
“These are locals. This is how Cottage Grove does disagreements. You hear all the shouting that’s not happening? That’s how Cottage Grove does it,” said Jake Boone, assistant to the city manager, who was also on scene on Saturday. He suspects the people making a ruckus at the Bohemia Park were out-of-towners who make a point of following announcements and disrupting the events.