OHA: What no mask mandate in airports, public transportation means for Oregonians


Shane Ersland


Although a federal judge struck down a mandate requiring travelers to wear masks on airplanes and public transportation two days ago, Oregon health officials do not expect COVID-19 case numbers to reach the peak levels they did last year.


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Dr. Tom Jeanne, Deputy State Health Officer and Deputy State Epidemiologist at the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division, gave an update on the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday. It was OHA’s first COVID press conference since early March, when it eased its reporting patterns following a decline in cases.

Following the federal judge’s ruling, Portland International Airport dropped its mask mandate Monday. Public transportation agencies TriMet and C-TRAN followed suit Tuesday. Jeanne discussed the effects that could have on the state.

“It’s hard to say because this is in the context of everything else that’s changing; changes in seasons, changes in people’s attitudes,” Jeanne said. “I don’t think we have a specific estimate as to how that recent change at the federal level might impact cases. What we know is that cases are already going up in Oregon; they’re going up around the country right now. We’re going to continue to see that.”

OHA officials are focusing on hospitalizations, however, Jeanne said. And the state saw fewer than 100 hospital patients a day during April. But that could be impacted by the federal ruling as well. 

“We’re going to see an impact on our hospitalizations eventually here, just as those cases go up,” Jeanne said. “But the projections, I have to emphasize, so far look like any peak we’re going to see in the near future here is going to be quite a bit lower than our large peaks from last year and this past winter.”

Daily case counts have seen a steady rise in the state, however. Oregon’s seven-day average number of new cases was at 554 on Monday. That was up from a seven-day average of 367 new cases on April 11, and 286 new cases on April 5.

But the state’s case counts are lower than what the actual numbers are, due to the availability of home testing and a lack of testing by some residents, Jeanne said. It’s possible that the actual number of cases is 5 to 10 times what the state’s reported numbers are, he said.

“I’m not sure it’s a huge problem,” Jeanne said. “We can still follow the general trends. We’re worried most about the hospital capacity. And we have very good tracking of the number of patients in hospitals.”

Jeanne said an undercount of COVID-19 cases has been an issue for a while.

“We’ve had an undercount the whole time because some people who had COVID never got tested,” he said. “What’s changed now is there’s a significant number of at-home tests being done. We have good information on hospitalizations and deaths, and that’s the bottom line.”