After Mandating Masks Outdoors, Oregon’s Active COVID-19 Cases Increased 73 Percent

On August 24, Oregon governor Kate Brown instated a state masking requirement that requires everyone five years and older, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask, face covering, or face shield in outdoor spaces if they are less than six feet apart from individuals not in their household.

“Cases and hospitalizations are at a record high,” said Governor Brown. “Masks are a quick and simple tool we can immediately deploy to protect ourselves and our families, and quickly help stop further spread of COVID-19.”

On August 24, Oregon had 49,889 active cases of COVID-19. As of yesterday, Oregon had 86,623 active cases of COVID-19 — an increase of 73 percent from the day the governor announced the outdoor mask requirement. Keep in mind, cases merely mean positive tests; an active case does not necessarily mean that person is significantly ill. The seven-day average of daily new cases has actually declined a bit, from a peak of 2,322 on August 30 to 1,616 yesterday. This wave appears to have peaked.

Nonetheless, the fact that the state with the most far-reaching masking requirement has seen a 73 percent increase in active cases in about a month is a vivid illustration of the limitations of masks. The Delta variant is really contagious, and no state can mask their way out of the pandemic.

What is more troubling is that the state’s death rate, while never particularly high, has climbed a bit. Until mid-August, the state’s seven-day average of daily new deaths was less than ten deaths per day. Since the start of September, the seven-day average has been hanging around 20 deaths per day, although the actual number of new deaths changes dramatically from day to day.

Hospitalizations and hospital capacity are a much more consequential measurement, and here there is some good news. From Monday, September 6, through Sunday, September 12, new COVID-19 hospitalizations fell 42 percent — from 1,028 to 592 — the first drop after nine consecutive weeks of increases. All regions of the state have at least a handful of ICU beds available, except for the region encompassing Gilliam, Hood River, Sherman, and Wasco counties, which is down to one remaining open ICU bed.

It is worth keeping in mind that Oregon and Washington have the lowest number of hospital beds per capita in the country, and the state of Oregon “regulates the number of hospital beds so there aren’t a glut of empty beds. If a hospital wants to expand, it needs approval from the state confirming extra beds are actually needed in that area.”

Since enacting a policy that required fully vaccinated people to wear masks outdoors, the number of active cases has jumped dramatically, the average number of daily deaths doubled, the daily average of new cases continued to increase for a week before starting to decline, and the number of available hospital beds got tight, before finally seeing some more capacity open up two weeks later. Many of the most restrictive governors would like to believe that their sweeping mandates and far-reaching restrictions on normal pre-pandemic activity are heroically saving lives, but the actual case data is much messier and rarely supports those self-serving narratives.