By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Businesses question CDC mask guidelines

Upending the expectations of many epidemiologists and health departments, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week announced that fully vaccinated people can now forego masks and social distancing for many activities.

The guidelines note they may be overridden by federal, state or tribal laws, and by local business and workplace guidelines. However, Gov. Kate Brown announced Oregon will follow the CDC’s recommendations.

Yamhill County businesses responded with a flurry of questions, prompting a rapidly-scheduled Zoom call between business owners, County Commissioner Casey Kulla and Jody Christensen, the liasion between the local Regional Solutions team and the governor’s office, last week.

Christensen noted that since the state hadn’t yet had time to develop new guidelines for businesses, she couldn’t provide a lot of details.

She told business owners that “It’s really important that we embrace this new change; it feels like there’s a weight lifted off … but we have to know that the virus is still in our community.”

She said it remains important to encourage vaccination, particularly among high-risk populations.

“We still in Oregon want to reach 70% vaccination and all of our modeling indicates that is possible,” she said.

Many of the business owners on the call seemed to feel the new guidelines leave them squarely in the most uncomfortable position possible: deciding which customers may enter without a mask, and which may not.

They expressed worry about being accused of discriminating against non-vaccinated customers and about violating customers’ privacy should they demand proof of vaccination.

One way around that, Christensen suggested, is to continue requiring masks for all customers, but many of the business owners on the call did not like that suggestion, either, feeling that it would also be unpopular with their customers.

“This is hard; we’re trying to recover,” McMinnville Chamber of Commerce Gioia Goodrum told Christensen.

However, Christensen said, it’s too early to be talking about recovery.

“I want to be clear: we’re not in recovery. We’re still in response to COVID … There is a declared emergency,” she said.

Christensen also emphasized that fully vaccinated means that people have received either a single Johnson & Johson vaccine or both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, and have waited the required two-week period afterwards.

Masks are still required for everyone on public transportation and in hospitals, and the CDC notes that people who have immune-weakening conditions or medications, may need to continue masking and distancing.

Christensen said businesses concerned about discrimination claims or privacy violations should talk to their own attorneys about their concerns.

“It is the responsibility of the employer and the business to validate when someone says they are vaccinated … as it is now,” she told them.

Some owners pointed out that schools are currently able to require proof of vaccination, and said they did not see how it would be different for businesses.

One said the change is “unsettling … this assumes 100% compliance with wearing masks when we haven’t seen that; it’s always been very controversial and pushed around.”

“Yeah, I appreciate that,” Christensen said.

In Yamhill County, Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer announced on Facebook she is upset by the outreach the state is doing to encourage young people to be vaccinated, and wants to pass a county rule requiring parental consent for anyone 17 or younger to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Under Oregon law, minors 15 and older may obtain vaccines without parental consent, and the Pfizer vaccine has now been approved for people 12 and older.

An April 13 letter from the Office of the Director of the Oregon Health Authority states, “The Oregon Health Authority supports the rights of minors 16 and older to consent to COVID-19 vaccination without parental consent, particularly in cases where the minor may have difficulty obtaining consent from a parent or guardian.”

Berschauer wrote on Facebook, “Considering the state’s plan is to bribe our teenagers with free pizza and iTunes gift cards in exchange for the jab, it is imperative that we protect them and our parental rights. Since the state is also targeting children as young as age 12, I will ask that parental consent be required for every child 17 and under.

“Let me be clear: I have a teenage son and two teenage stepchildren. In no way, shape or form would I ever allow them to be vaccinated for anything without parental consent,” she wrote.

Health and Human Services Director Lindsey Manfin did not respond to questions from the News-Register seeking a response to Berschauer’s comments.

Berschauer asked readers to write to her county e-mail address in support of her proposal.

Yamhill County, which remains in the high-risk category for COVID-19 transmission, reported 30 new cases on Monday, covering Saturday through Monday.

There have now been 4,508 cases to date in the county, and 76 deaths.

The county reports 52.8% of the population is vaccinated. It will be able to move to the low-risk category when 65% of the population is vaccinated, and the state has approved its equity plan for vaccine distribution.

It has not yet submitted its equity plan to the state, according to Kulla.


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