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Oregon to require masks indoors for K-12 schools

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The state of Oregon will require students and staff in K-12 schools to wear masks indoors this fall, Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday.

The decision follows this week’s updated national masking guidelines and a spike in COVID-19 cases in Oregon, due to the highly transmissible delta variant.

“My priority is to ensure our kids are able to safely return to full-time in-person learning this fall, five days per week and with minimal disruptions," Brown said. "With many children still ineligible to be vaccinated, masks are an effective way to help keep our kids safe in the classroom, the learning environment we know serves them best.

As cases continue to increase across the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced updated masking guidelines on Tuesday, recommending that people — vaccinated or not — return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant is rampant.

The CDC also recommended masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors inside of schools, regardless of vaccination status.

In a statement from the Oregon Department of Education officials say they are working to create a rule requiring face coverings in all indoor school settings — both public and private — for all individuals 2 and older. This includes students, staff, contractors, volunteers and visitors.

Officials say the rule will take effect upon adoption, but the exact date is unclear. Summer school and students and staff in other summer programs will also be required to wear face coverings when the rule is instituted.

Education officials in Oregon maintain that two of the most important tools that the state has to control COVID-19 are vaccines and face covering. However, currently children under the age of 12 are not eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

The rule will include provisions for eating, drinking, playing a musical instrument that requires using the mouth and certain sports — including swimming, gymnastics and wrestling.

Likewise, in Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said on Wednesday that the state will continue to require that all students and employees of K-12 schools wear masks when instruction resumes for the upcoming school year, and noted that is a legal requirement not up to the local jurisdictions.

In addition, on Tuesday the Oregon Health Authority followed with the CDC in urging people to wear mask in indoor public spaces, but stopped short of reinstating an indoor mask mandate.

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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.