Oregon has made its COVID-19 restrictions for businesses permanent until they are no longer needed.
The rules require employers to ensure both employees and customers wear masks indoors and outdoors if social distancing cannot be maintained. Additionally, businesses are required to “optimize” outside air circulating through ventilation systems.
Employers are also required to conduct COVID-19 risk assessments and put an infection control plan in place, as well as conduct infection control training. Employers who complied with these provisions under the temporary order are not required to repeat the process.
The Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Division said the permanent rules were necessary because of a law limiting emergency occupational safety orders to 180 days, after which a permanent rulemaking process must be undertaken.
The rules have no expiration date, although Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials say it will be repealed when it is “no longer needed.”
Aaron Corvin, a public information officer for the Oregon OSHA, told the Washington Examiner that the state has “not predefined the complex algorithm that would be required to trigger the repeal,” but it will be looking at multiple factors.
“Trying to go the predefined route, given the fluid nature of what we’re dealing with, could set up a situation of repealing too soon or too far down the road,” Corvin said.
The Oregon OSHA will meet with several committees at least every two months beginning in July to assess the rules and determine whether the state is meeting undefined criteria for rescission.
In April, OSHA Director Michael Wood said the then-proposed permanent regulations are “driven by the pandemic” but may last past the end of the emergency declaration issued by Gov. Kate Brown.
The proposal was met with fierce opposition from Oregonians, and the Oregon OSHA received a record-breaking 5,000 comments on the proposed rules before the public comment period ended.
Republican state Sen. Kim Thatcher voiced staunch opposition to making the rules permanent, questioning the threshold at which the mandate would be rescinded.
“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?” Thatcher said. “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.”
Justin Spaulding, a physician in Medford, expressed concern in public comments that the permanent rules “will only continue to blunt the recent drop in business.”
“We have a large subset of patients that are unwilling (or) hostile with the current guidelines, and making them permanent will only make it worse,” he wrote.
Brown will begin lifting “extreme risk” restrictions in half of the state’s counties on Friday. Indoor dining in Portland will be permitted at 25% capacity.
The governor said the pace of vaccinations in the state should allow Oregon to return to a “sense of normalcy” by late June.