The new stats on COVID-19 infections in Oregon are staggering. The state crossed the 1,000-per-day threshold on Thursday, Nov. 12, with no end in sight.
Gov. Kate Brown on Friday released a plan effective Nov. 18 to Dec. 2 to slow down the rate of infections before Oregon becomes a national hotspot. They will last until Dec. 18 in Multnomah County and likely in Washington County because of their higher infection rates.
The governor's order will hurt some businesses at exactly the wrong time — when they were hoping to make up lost ground during the annual holiday season. The pandemic's escalating numbers have put everyone — public officials, health-care providers, businesses and families — in a no-win situation. Either we all act responsibly to slow the spread of the virus, or we will see deaths rise and the economy take another step backward.
Several things must happen in conjunction with the governor's order, or her efforts will be for naught.
First, individuals and families must realize this is a deadly serious situation. As painful as it is this time of year, social gatherings must be severely curtailed. No, it will not be OK to have grandma and grandpa over for Thanksgiving, unless you want to be responsible for them contracting a potentially fatal virus. And remember, this disease is just that — fatal — for too many older people.
Next, we all must rally to support local businesses, or they simply won't be able to hold on for a few more months. Order take-out food from as many restaurants as you can. If your gym is closed for another few weeks, buy a gift membership for someone, and keep paying your dues. Take a break from your Amazon addiction and start ordering from local merchants instead.
There are many, many other ways to support local businesses. But the point is this: They won't survive if people don't make a consious choice to buy from them while also staying safe.
Finally, it is way past time for Oregon's congressional delegation — which includes senior and powerful Democrats — to push harder for an agreement with Republicans on a relief bill for businesses and families. The election is over. Oregonians cannot wait until January for a lifeline. Pass something now — even if it's just a partial solution until next year.
The governor's actions will not be popular, but they are meant to combat a truly frightening trend. As of last week, Dr. Dana Hargunani, chief medical officer of the Oregon Health Authority, cited an 83% increase in hospitalized patients over the last four weeks across the state; with a 57% increase in the Portland metro area. And Portland-area hospitals have reported that use of beds in intensive-care units is approaching 90% of capacity.
All of that was reported before Oregon jumped from the range of 800-per-day to 1,000-per-day in one 24-hour reporting period.
How long will it take area hospitals to go from 90% capacity of ICU beds to 100% capacity-plus?
At this rate, too quickly.
Remember, Oregon cases peaked at 59 on March 20 and crossed the 100-case barrier on June 3; that took 15 weeks. The next big peak, 384, took five weeks.
It has taken us 15 days to go from 600 daily cases to more than 1,100.
Which means the tri-county area, and all of Oregon, could slip back into the "Phase Zero" quarantine that we saw when cases were much, much lower this spring and summer.
A quarantine: Just in time for Christmas. Nobody wants to see that. But that's the direction we're heading.
Here are the restrictions set for Nov. 18 to Dec. 2:
• Restaurants and bars are limited to take-out only.
• Gyms and fitness organizations are closed.
• Indoor recreational and entertainment facilities are closed, including theaters, museums, pools, sports courts and hosting venues.
• Also closed are outdoor recreational facilities, zoos, gardens, aquariums, entertainment activities, including pools and hosting venues.
• Faith-based gatherings are limited to 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors.
• Indoor visits to long-term care facilities are prohibited.
• Grocery stores and pharmacies are limited to 75% capacity and asked to encourage curbside pick-up.
• Retail stores and retail malls — both indoor and outdoor — are limited to 75% capacity and encouraged to offer curbside pick-up.
• All businesses are mandated to work-from-home to the greatest extent possible and close offices to the public.
The restrictions came with some exemptions: They do not apply to or change current health and safety protocols for personal services — such as barber shops, hair salons and non-medical massage therapy. They also do not affect congregate homeless sheltering, outdoor recreation and sports, youth programs, childcare, K-12 schools, K-12 sports currently allowed, current Division 1 and professional athletics, and higher education.
Gov. Brown and the Health Authority released an earlier set of restrictions, to end on Thanksgiving eve. The wording was crafted so as not to rile up those who feel that these rules are un-American, or infringe on civil rights.
But the kid gloves have come off. Brown has ordered the Oregon State Police to begin working with local law enforcement to limit social gatherings and to use their discretion to enforce as citation, fine or arrest of a Class C misdemeanor.
Brown had said earlier this summer she would not be "the party police" and send officers to private gatherings to enforce limits. That's no longer the policy, she said, adding "Unfortunately we have no other option."
Again, Oregon isn't a hot spot, but seemingly draconian restrictions likely are needed to keep us out of that category. Consider these national stats from one recent day:
• At least five states set single-day highs for fatalities.
• At least five more states set single-day highs for new cases.
• More than a dozen states have hit new highs for hospitalizations.
In North Dakota, health-care workers who have the virus but are asymptomatic now will be allowed to keep working in COVID-19 wards. That's because the number of patients in those wards so far outstrips the staff members needed to care for them.
That's beyond scary.
Now, Oregon is at the cusp of falling into the national hotspot category. To avoid that, everyone should follow the Health Authority guidelines. If things get worse — and as of last week, no state in the union had caseloads actually subsiding — there is a danger of even tougher restrictions as we head into the Christmas season.
We have the power to avoid that. But time is running out.
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