As mask mandates end, Oregon bucks trend with permanent rule

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Residents wearing masks sit in downtown Lake Oswego, Ore., on Sunday, April 11, 2021. Tens of thousands of Oregon residents are angry about a proposal to make permanent an emergency rule that requires masks and social distancing in the state's businesses and schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Opponents worry about government overreach and fear that state officials won't remove the mask requirements for businesses even after threat of the virus has receded if the emergency rule becomes permanent. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)

PORTLAND, Ore. – As states around the country lift COVID-19 restrictions, Oregon is poised to go the opposite direction — and many residents are fuming about it.

A top health official is considering indefinitely extending rules requiring masks and social distancing in all businesses in the state.

The proposal would keep the rules in place until they are “no longer necessary to address the effects of the pandemic in the workplace.”

Michael Wood, administrator of the state’s department of Occupational Safety and Health, said the move is necessary to address a technicality in state law that requires a “permanent” rule to keep current restrictions from expiring.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” he said.

But the idea has prompted a flood of angry responses, with everyone from parents to teachers to business owners and employees crying government overreach.

Wood’s agency received a record number of public comments, mostly critical, and nearly 60,000 residents signed a petition against the proposal.

Opponents also are upset government officials won’t say how low Oregon's COVID-19 case numbers must go, or how many people would have to be vaccinated, to get the requirements lifted in a state that’s already had some of the nation’s strictest safety measures.