Tribal Government & News

Casino, Tribe prepare for end of mask mandate on March 12

02.28.2022 Danielle Harrison Spirit Mountain Casino, COVID-19


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals staff writer

Starting as early as Saturday, March 12, guests and employees at Spirit Mountain Casino will no longer be required to wear a mask inside the gaming facility.

In updated guidance released Monday, Feb. 28, the Oregon Health Authority announced that Oregon will lift mask requirements for indoor public places and schools by Saturday, March 12, citing projected hospitalizations to reach levels below those at the start of the Omicron surge. Originally, the Health Authority had projected March 31 as the end date for the statewide mask rule. Then, it was moved to March 19. The March 12 date aligns with mask requirements lifting in California and Washington.

After the mandate ends, the decision to mask will be left up to individual employers, including mask requirements inside schools, but it doesn’t affect medical facilities and associated services.

However, Tribal governmental employees will have to continue wearing masks when they return to work on Monday, March 14.

“When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tribe has always chosen to err on the side of caution,” Tribal Communications Director Sara Thompson said. “As a result, we are leaving our mask mandate in place for now. We will continue to monitor our situation and re-evaluate the mask mandate accordingly.”

At Spirit Mountain Casino, employees are required to be fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19. The Tribal government does not have a vaccine mandate except for clinic, housekeeping and Early Childhood Education employees.

“We have kept a vigilant eye on state guidelines and CDC announcements throughout the pandemic,” Spirit Mountain Casino Sponsorship Administrator Jocelyn Huffman said. “The recent announcement by the state to lift the mask mandate is also being closely monitored. Once the state makes an official announcement to lift the mandate, we will follow suit and comply with all guidelines.

“Cleanliness and safety have always been a top priority for Spirit Mountain Casino. We will continue to provide sanitizing stations and take extra care to make sure guests and employees experience a clean environment.”

Casino General Manager Bruce Thomas said during a Wednesday, Feb. 23, Facebook Live event that he was been authorized by the Grand Ronde Gaming Commission to follow state rules regarding mask wearing within the facility.

The lifting of the mask mandate in Oregon will come near the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic spreading throughout the state in mid-March 2020.

The Willamina School District surveyed its staff and parents to see which favored keeping the mandate and who wanted to ditch it. The result was clear: Eighty-eight percent are in favor of making masking optional. As of March 12, masking will become optional in Willamina schools.

Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said in a Monday, Feb. 28, press conference that the statewide guidance, “Ready Schools Safe Learners,” concerning COVID testing and quarantine protocols would be updated later in the week to reflect the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Willamina School District Superintendent Carrie Zimbrick noted in an all-staff e-mail on Feb. 28 that the school district would follow suit with its plan.

“We will have an updated RSSL by March 3, with guidance for COVID mitigation based on CDC recommendations and county level of positive cases,” she said. “Once we have the revised document, we can adjust our current protocols to reflect the most recent changes.”