Health & Education

Health & Wellness Clinic ending mask mandate

03.07.2023 Dean Rhodes Health & Wellness, COVID-19, State government
Smoke Signals file photo


By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

Slightly more than three years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Grand Ronde Health & Wellness Clinic will be repealing its mask mandate for Tribal health care facilities on Monday, April 3.

The Tribe is following the lead of the Oregon Health Authority, which announced on Friday, March 3, that is was rescinding provisions of an Oregon Administrative Rule that requires workers in health care settings to wear masks effective April 3.

Health Services Executive Director Kelly Rowe announced on Tuesday, March 7, that the Tribe would follow suit. However, she said, masks will continue to be available throughout Tribal Health & Wellness facilities for staff and patients.

“Anyone who is symptomatic with respiratory signs will be strongly encouraged to wear a mask while in the Health & Wellness facilities to limit spread of any viruses,” Rowe said, adding that Health & Wellness will continue to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for staff until that requirement is repealed by federal funding sources.

Wearing a mask at work became optional for most Tribal employees and guests in March 2022 except for Health & Wellness and Education staff members. Spirit Mountain Casino also dropped its mask wearing requirement for guests at that time.

Education Department Manager Angela Fasana said her department dropped its only remaining mask mandate for students and staff in the Early Childhood Education Program on Jan. 12 per federal Head Start guidelines.

The Oregon Health Authority said its decision to end statewide health care mask requirements aligns with decisions made in other states, such as Washington.

State Epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said that data in recent weeks is showing decreases in three respiratory diseases that triggered a surge in visits to hospital emergency rooms – COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus or RSV.

The Oregon Health Authority advises that anyone with a higher risk for severe disease, or who lives with someone at higher risk, should still consider wearing masks in health care or any other public settings to better protect themselves and those most vulnerable around them.

Although the state and Tribe are lifting the mask mandate, some health care providers may continue to require masks, which are an effective way to reduce transmission of respiratory viruses.

The Grand Ronde Tribe remains under a state of emergency that was declared on March 18, 2020.