My home state of Oregon has announced its plans to become the first permanent-masking regime in the Union. KATU’s Genevieve Reaume reports:
INDOOR MASKING IN OREGON — It's likely here to STAY.
Today, @OHAOregon worked with stakeholders (like those in the restaurant industry, business assoc., etc.) to discuss making the current indoor mask mandate permanent.#LiveOnK2 pic.twitter.com/r0gkNnWfsi
— Genevieve Reaume (@GenevieveReaume) December 3, 2021
The Oregon Health Authority’s meeting does not mean that the move is official yet — it was a meeting with various stakeholders to iron out the details of how to write the specifics of the rule — but it signals that the instantiation of a forever mask mandate is right around the corner. As KATU writes, “this is the first step in making the rule permanent.”
To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Oregon’s mask mandate will extend in perpetuity. Reaume clarifies that “the current rule is temporary” and “can’t be in place more than 180 days,” and that “making the rule permanent allows the state to keep the rule.” Finally, she adds, “the rule can be repealed.”
Still, the possibility of a repeal in the future does not negate the simple fact that Oregon will probably pass a permanent masking law. Even on its own terms, the current rationale of using this as a workaround for the 180-day limit is bad enough as it is: Oregon is one of only nine remaining states that has any kind of mask mandate at all. It’s one of only four states that has a mask mandate that applies to vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals alike. It was the last remaining state to have an outdoor mask mandate — which also applied to vaccinated residents — until a couple of weeks ago, when the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) finally relented, repealing the outdoor-masking rule it had reinstated during a surge back in August.
The state’s public-health bureaucracy is defending the continued goalpost-moving with pandemic mandates, but its reasoning is increasingly tortured. Dr. Paul Cieslak, the medical director for OHA’s communicable diseases and immunizations division, told KATU that “permanent means indefinite. It doesn’t necessarily mean permanent.” Cieslak might benefit from consulting a thesaurus. We can play word games all day — “permanent means perpetual, unending, enduring; it doesn’t necessarily mean permanent” — but again, the simple fact is that until the rule is repealed, a permanent mask mandate is . . . a permanent mask mandate.
If and when this rule goes into effect, is it ever going to be repealed? Oregon’s public-health officials assure us that it can be. They stop short, however, of promising that it will. And their record of broken promises over the course of the last two years does not inspire confidence. Those of us who worried that pandemic restrictions were going to become permanent were accused of alarmism and conspiracy theorizing. Now — at least in Oregon — it looks like that permanence is coming to pass. Why should we trust that it won’t be here to stay?