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Oregon Lifts COVID-19 Mandates, Introduces Vaccination Verification Measures


Oregon has lifted its mask mandate for those who are vaccinated against the coronavirus, but businesses, workplaces and houses of worship may not be required to verify vaccination before they admit someone who is not masked. Patrick Allen is director of the Oregon Health Authority and joins us now.

Mr. Allen, thanks so much for being with us.

PATRICK ALLEN: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: So what are you telling businesses, houses of worship to do exactly?

ALLEN: Well, what CDC has done is they've set up two different sets of rules, one set for people who are vaccinated and another set for people who aren't vaccinated. So what we're asking businesses and other venues to do is if they want to allow people to take advantage of that set of rules for people who are vaccinated, they need to ask them if they're vaccinated and ask them to show some evidence of that - their CDC card or a picture or something like that.

SIMON: I don't have to tell you a spokesperson for the union that represents grocery store workers put out a statement saying that you're - well, these are my words. You're essentially asking them to be traffic cops or bouncers. You're putting the burden on them to verify. What do you say to that?

ALLEN: I would say that the other step that we've taken is to say if a business doesn't want to get involved in that and doesn't want to be engaged in asking their customers for evidence of vaccination, the simple answer for them is to continue to require masks in their business or venue, as they've been doing since the governor made that order back in July.

SIMON: I don't have to tell you also that you can buy counterfeit vaccine cards on the internet, right?

ALLEN: While we've done a good job with vaccinations, we still have half of Oregonians who aren't vaccinated. And so we don't think it's prudent yet for us to treat everyone as though they are vaccinated. And so what we want to do is basically create a step that people have to take to demonstrate that they're able to follow, that they're able to make use of that maskless rule from CDC. They can certainly, you know, potentially, I suppose, forge a CDC card. But they could also - if we came up with a way of having businesses verify that, you know, there's always a step you can go further to get around the system. We think we've created a speed bump, if you will, that will help encourage people to do the right thing.

SIMON: But with 50% of the state not vaccinated, why take this step now?

ALLEN: We do want to be able to encourage vaccination, and having people be able to do things that they couldn't do before when they're vaccinated, we think, is a powerful inducement to get vaccinated. Part of what we also decided, in the interest of simplicity, is to say, outdoors, whether you're vaccinated or not, you're able to go without a mask. Like, you know, I think about my local gym, where they can identify - they can look at my vaccination card and put that in the record. And then as I come and go going forward, they don't need to worry about that.

SIMON: Well, I hate to dwell on possible negative reactions, but if someone refuses to leave, should a business or, God forbid, house of worship call law enforcement officials?

ALLEN: Well, you know, I think our businesses and houses of worship, other venues, have been dealing pretty successfully with this over most of the last year. First of all, we've had really good mask compliance in the state. Surveys would indicate somewhere between 70- and 80% of people wearing masks all the time when they're out in public. And we've not had a lot of examples of those kinds of confrontational events happening.

SIMON: Patrick Allen is director of the Oregon Health Authority.

Thanks so much for being with us.

ALLEN: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.