PORTLAND, Ore. — As COVID-19 cases in Oregon continue to decrease health officials announced Tuesday they are immediately lifting statewide mask requirements in crowded outdoor settings.

Oregon was the first state in the U.S. to reimplement an outdoor mask mandate for both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents in August as the delta variant spread.

At the time, Oregon was in the midst of its worst surge during the pandemic. Record daily COVID-19 cases were set day after day and hospitalizations overwhelmed the health system. A majority of people hospitalized were unvaccinated.

However, over the past six weeks health officials say Oregon's daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have steadily declined. Last week, cases decreased by 12% from the previous week.

“We took decisive measures. And, as has been the case over the course of this pandemic, Oregonians resoundingly responded," Director Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said Tuesday. "Together we have managed to turn back the tsunami of new infections that very nearly swamped our health care system.”

Oregon has had some of the strictest statewide coronavirus-related restrictions and safety measures during the pandemic.

Gov. Kate Brown reopened the state in July, weeks behind most other states. But in August, as cases and hospitalizations surged, officials announced a reimplementation of many restrictions.

While the outdoor mask mandate has been lifted — which included large outdoor events where physical distancing is not possible, such as festivals and concerts — other safety measures are still in effect.

Oregon has a statewide indoor mask mandate for all public settings — including grocery stores, restaurants, schools and gyms — regardless of a person's vaccination status.

“I think the best guidance that we can provide is that people should expect to continue to be wearing masks indoors for some time, certainly into next year,” Allen said.

In addition Brown required that state employees, health care workers and K-12 school staff be fully vaccinated by mid-October.

On Tuesday officials also announced that they are introducing test-to-stay protocol for students this week. The protocol means that after an exposure, most students — whether they are vaccinated or not — will be able to stay in school if they take a COVID-19 test and it comes back negative.

About 80% of Oregonians have received at least a single dose of a vaccine, and while cases and hospitalizations related to the virus continue, Oregon has the fourth lowest case count in the country and is the sixth lowest when it comes to deaths, officials say.

On Monday Oregon surpassed 5,000 deaths due to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

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Sara Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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