Many students and staff members at Sunnyslope Elementary School wear masks during a walk-to-school event in Roseburg in October.

Oregon health officials announced the outdoor mask mandate required for large gatherings will be lifted, along with an implementation of a new testing protocol aimed at keeping students in school.

The announcement comes just before this weekend’s rivalry game at Autzen Stadium.

University officials said masks are no longer required in outdoor spaces, but are still recommended.

The change in protocol for schools comes as an adequate supply of COVID-19 testing kits have become available for all public and private schools in the state, according to health officials. This testing will be intended for unvaccinated, asymptomatic students exposed in indoor and outdoor school settings, where masks remain present.

With the help of the test-to-stay protocol, more students and staff will be able to participate at school while reducing the burden created by quarantine on educators, students and families, said Colt Gill, the director of the Oregon Department of Education, in a statement.

Roseburg School District Superintendent Jared Cordon said the new protocol may help other districts, but it will make little difference for schools in his district. This is because the district is following existing guidelines and not quarantining entire classrooms like other districts, Cordon said.

The district continues to work with state health officials to figure out ways to assist students who experience at-home exposure, he said.

As COVID-19 cases in Oregon continue to decrease, health officials announced Tuesday they are immediately lifting statewide mask requirements in crowded outdoor settings.

Oregon was the first state in the U.S. to reimplement an outdoor mask mandate for both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents in August as the delta variant spread.

At the time, Oregon was in the midst of its worst surge during the pandemic. Record daily COVID-19 cases were set day after day and hospitalizations overwhelmed the health system. A majority of people hospitalized were unvaccinated.

However, over the past six weeks, health officials say Oregon’s daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have steadily declined. Last week, cases decreased by 12% from the previous week.

“We took decisive measures. And, as has been the case over the course of this pandemic, Oregonians resoundingly responded,” Director Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said Tuesday. “Together we have managed to turn back the tsunami of new infections that very nearly swamped our health care system.”

Oregon has had some of the strictes statewide coronavirus-related restrictions and safety measures during the pandemic.

Gov. Kate Brown reopened the state in July, weeks behind most other states. But in August, as cases and hospitalizations surged, officials announced a reimplementation of many restrictions.

While the outdoor mask mandate has been lifted — which included large outdoor events where physical distancing is not possible, such as festivals and concerts — other safety measures are still in effect.

Oregon has a statewide indoor mask mandate for all public settings — including grocery stores, restaurants, schools and gyms — regardless of a person’s vaccination status.

“I think the best guidance that we can provide is that people should expect to continue to be wearing masks indoors for some time, certainly into next year,” Allen said.

In addition Brown required that state employees, health care workers and K-12 school staff be fully vaccinated by mid-October.

On Tuesday officials also announced that they are introducing test-to-stay protocol for students this week. The protocol means that after an exposure, most students — whether they are vaccinated or not — will be able to stay in school if they take a COVID-19 test and it comes back negative.

About 80% of Oregonians have received at least a single dose of a vaccine, and while cases and hospitalizations related to the virus continue, Oregon has the fourth lowest case count in the country and is the sixth lowest when it comes to deaths, officials say.

On Monday Oregon surpassed 5,000 deaths due to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Madison Temmel is the education reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at mtemmel@nrtoday.com and 541-957-4217.

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Madison Temmel is the education reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at mtemmel@nrtoday.com and 541-957-4217.

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