Oregon health department faces backlash over permanent school mask mandate

The order replaces temporary rules that expired every 180 days.

Updated: February 3, 2022 - 6:25pm

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) is facing criticism from Oregon parents after instituting a permanent mask mandate in all K-12 schools. 

All or part of the mandate's rules, issued last Friday, may be lifted by the State Public Health Director or the State Public Health Officer "if they no longer necessary to control COVID-19." The order replaces temporary rules that expired every 180 days.

The group Oregon Moms Union is standing up against the mandate. "[W]e’re demanding answers to the question: What are the metrics that remove masks in schools at the local level?" the group responded to the rule.

The order applies to public, private, parochial, charter and alternative K-12 schools, with a threat of "$500 per day per violation."

Students, staff and visitors are allowed to opt for a face shield if a person cannot medically wear a mask. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically states face shields are "not recommended." 

Oregon Moms Union, created when schools shut down due to COVID in 2021, said: "While the Washington Post, the Atlantic, NPR, and the Oregonian have all recently published articles about the case against masks, Oregon is doubling down on destructive mask policies that aren’t effective and are proven to be harmful to our kids."

The OHA defended its mandate after hearing concerns from citizens. For example, the agency wrote: "There are no known scientific studies that face masks negatively impact a child’s speech and development."

Those participating in sports or performances are not required to wear a mask, and OHA says the decision is because school is a "compulsory activity," but extracurriculars are "voluntary activities."

The Moms Union pointed out that the mandate "will likely trigger another mass exodus from Oregon schools, and for those parents who can make that choice, we wholeheartedly support you. For those who aren’t able to pull their kids out of school, we stand with you and will fight for a better system for our kids."

Schools that do not comply with the mandate are at risk of losing funding.

Rural Alsea School District defied the mandate. In response, the Oregon government withheld about $324,000 of federal COVID relief funding, KGW8 reported.