Umatilla County Vaccines

Registered Nurse Nicol Byram talks with a vaccine recipient at a clinic at the Community Building in Milton-Freewater, February 11, 2021.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the state will immediately follow new guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for lifting mask and distancing requirements for fully vaccinated people.

In a statement Thursday, May 13, Brown said the federal guidance is another sign the COVID-19 pandemic is coming closer to an end.

This means fully vaccinated Oregonians no longer need to wear masks or stay 6 feet apart in most public spaces, she said.

The CDC has outlined a few exceptions, such as public transportation, hospitals and health care clinics as well as corrections and long-term care facilities, Brown said, and Oregon will continue to require people to remain masked and distanced in those circumstances.

As well, people with compromised immune systems should follow the recommendations of their health care providers when it comes to personal protective measures, she said.

“Nothing is changing for schools this school year, and I expect education staff and students to continue to wear masks and physically distance, as outlined in our ‘Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance.’”

Oregon Health Authority will provide updated guidance for businesses, employers and others to allow for the option of lifting mask and physical distancing requirements after verifying vaccination status, the governor said, noting some businesses may prefer to continue to require masks and distance rather than worry about verifying vaccination status.

Joseph Fiumara, director of Umatilla County Public Health, said he’s somewhat skeptical of the CDC’s announcement.

“Personally, I think changing the current requirements to allow those who are vaccinated to no longer (wear) masks would have the same effect of saying no one is required to wear the masks in these settings,” Fiumara said.

“It will be really easy to say ‘I’m vaccinated.’”

Fiumara would like Oregon Health Authority to choose removal of the mask mandate for anyone in the CDC’s allowable communal settings, “on the premise that the vaccine is available, and anyone who chooses to be vaccinated is able to do so.”

The new CDC guidance makes clear that vaccines are the best protection tool, Gov. Brown said.

“We are one step closer to putting this pandemic behind us.”

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Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.