In Oregon's most dramatic response yet to the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday night, March 11, that gatherings of more than 250 people will be canceled for at least four weeks.
The sweeping action comes hours after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a similar ban on large gatherings in the Seattle area. Unlike Inslee's decree, Brown's order covers the entire state.
"A gathering is defined as any event in a space in which appropriate social distancing of a minimum of three feet cannot be maintained," a statement from the governor's office added.
On Sunday, March 8, the Oregon Health Authority said it was issuing guidance to schools, colleges and universities to avoid canceling classes over cases of COVID-19, the viral illness caused by the novel coronavirus, if possible.
Brown's orders, as outlined Wednesday night, don't roll back that guidance, but they do direct schools to cancel "non-essential school-associated gatherings and group activities," including competitions.
Oregon is currently in the midst of high school basketball playoffs.
The Oregon School Activities Association announced Wednesday night that games will continue to be played, but only "essential personnel" and media will be allowed to attend. Spectators will not be allowed in the stands.
"This difficult decision has not been made lightly," said Peter Weber, OSAA executive director. "Going into this week, we knew the situation was rapidly evolving, and as the circumstances and guidance have changed throughout today, our focus is on trying to honor the commitment students have made throughout the season by continuing the contests, albeit without spectators."
Late Wednesday, the Parkrose School District canceled parent-teacher conferences on Thursday and Friday. Earlier that evening, St. Mary's Academy in downtown Portland announced a shift to online classes only, at least temporarily.
Read the March 11, 2020, statement from the OSAA on limiting attendance at basketball playoff games.
Earlier Wednesday, both the University of Oregon and Oregon State University announced they will shift most classes online and cancel large gatherings due to concerns over the novel coronavirus.
Brown will provide more details on the actions she is taking in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has more than 1,000 diagnosed cases in the United States and more than 20 in Oregon as of Wednesday night. Public health experts say those numbers are almost certainly low, a factor of limited testing for the viral illness first diagnosed in humans late last year.
The governor also is advising employers to use "distancing measures," such as limiting in-person meetings, staggering shifts and providing more physical space between workers sharing the same workspace.
"Nobody is immune to this virus, it can touch everyone," Brown said in a statement released late Wednesday. "We can't let fear and anxiety stigmatize people. We are seeing cases across multiple counties and age groups, and in people exposed through different circumstances. It's time for us all to do what we can to slow its spread and take care of one another."
The governor's office suggested more cases in Oregon are expected to be confirmed.
"As the number of positive cases increases across Oregon, public health resources will be directed toward implementing the guidelines and policies in this statewide mitigation plan, and reducing focus on aggressive contact follow-up on each individual positive case," the governor's office stated Wednesday night.
On Monday, March 9, the legislative emergency board committed $5 million toward state efforts to combat COVID-19. That move came a day after Brown signed an order declaring an emergency over the viral outbreak, which the World Health Organization described Wednesday as a pandemic.
Brown will speak at a press conference at 9 a.m. at the Portland State Office Building in Northeast Portland. She will be joined by Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and other state and local officials, including public health officers.
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