Efforts to make Oregon’s coronavirus regulations permanent have been met with resistance.
The state’s emergency regulations expire on May 4, but a proposal that would extend Oregon’s mask mandate and social distancing requirements indefinitely has sparked the ire of state residents.
The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division received a record-breaking 5,000 comments on the proposed rules before the public comment period ended, eclipsing the past record of 1,000 comments.
“The majority of comments were simply hostile to the entire notion of COVID-19 restrictions,” Michael Wood, the administrator of Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division, said. “The vast majority of comments were in the context of, ‘You never needed to do anything.’”
Republican state Sen. Kim Thatcher is a staunch opponent of the proposal and questioned the threshold at which the mandate would be rescinded.
“When will masks be unnecessary? What scientific studies do these mandates rely on, particularly now that the vaccine is days away from being available to everyone?” Thatcher said. “Businesses have had to play ‘mask cop’ for the better part of a year now. They deserve some certainty on when they will no longer be threatened with fines.”
Wood said the regulations are “driven by the pandemic” and will be repealed but may last past the end of the state of emergency declaration issued by Gov. Kate Brown.
A Change.org petition in opposition to the permanent mask mandate and social distancing regulations garnered nearly 60,000 signatures by Saturday evening.
The Oregon Chamber of Commerce sent a message to members urging them to state their opposition to the rules they say will “layer new regulations on local employers nearly 14 months into the pandemic.”
Justin Spaulding, a physician in Medford, expressed concern in public comments that the permanent rules “will only continue to blunt the recent drop in business.”
“We have a large subset of patients that are unwilling (or) hostile with the current guidelines, and making them permanent will only make it worse,” he wrote.
The regulations would also require businesses to institute infection control plans, regulate airflow, and force businesses to provide masks, and in certain cases respirators, to employees.
Businesses that violate the state’s strict regulations face steep fines. In the first four months of 2021 alone, at least Oregon businesses were fined a total of more than $275,000 for violations of the temporary rules.
On Friday, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the state stood at 624, according to New York Times data.
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