SALEM, Ore. — Oregon schools will be required to enforce face covering use for all K-12 students and staff following updated guidance from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) on Wednesday.
Governor Kate Brown announced that masks would be required publicly for children ages five and above in a press conference on Wednesday morning, indicating that the expanded mandate would result in changes to ODE guidance. Those changes came out within the hour.
"Earlier versions of the guidance recommended, but did not require, face coverings for students in 6th-12th grade," ODE said. "Earlier guidance versions did not require staff to wear face coverings in all circumstances. The new requirement is in response to mounting evidence that face coverings are effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19."
Face coverings will now be required for all students — kindergarten and up — and all K-12 staff, the agency said.
ODE said that it would also be distributing 5 million face coverings to school districts for students and staff to use. These are KN95 masks provided by FEMA to the state. They will be distributed out to districts "over the next few weeks."
"ODE defines these products as face coverings and not masks, as they are not considered medical-grade masks," the agency said.
Whether schools return with on-site learning, distance learning, or a hybrid model will depend on local conditions and readiness. Many districts have already rolled out drafts of their plans for the coming school year.
"Having face coverings alone do not fully prepare a school to return to in-person instruction," ODE continued. "The supply of face coverings complements schools’ ongoing efforts to keep students and staff safe and healthy and is one of many factors in any school’s individual plan to return to in-person instruction as all schools have to meet a host of safety criteria before returning students to in-person instruction."
ODE said that it expects to issue a further update on statewide guidance on August 11, informed by discussions with the Oregon Health Authority on how schools and districts should determine when to allow in-person learning.
Also on Wednesday, OHA released a new website resource for information on face coverings and masks, intended to help Oregonians understand the increasing requirements.
"Controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Oregon requires all of us to do our part," the agency said. "Emerging evidence shows that wearing a mask help can help protect you and the people you love from spreading and catching COVID-19. It’s an empowering way for each of us to protect our communities, our families and ourselves."