Gov. Kate Brown has announced new coronavirus restrictions, likely including the three Portland metro counties, when the current statewide freeze ends Dec. 2.
Brown said that based on data now available, Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties are among the 21 in Oregon that will be considered as "extreme risk" for spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. County status will be re-evaluated every two weeks, and there are four tiers.
The new restrictions for counties at "extreme risk" will allow for outdoor dining at restaurants — though takeout orders are still encouraged — but will tighten capacity in groceries, pharmacies and other stores.
The official designations for each of Oregon's 36 counties will be based on data as of Monday, Nov. 30. The restrictions take effect Dec. 3. Data will be published every week, but status changes will take place every two weeks.
All of Oregon's population centers are in the 21 counties deemed right now as "extreme risk." Only five counties, four of them east of the Cascades plus Tillamook County, are at "lower risk."
State health officials also said that Oregon expects to receive its first shipments of coronavirus vaccines from the federal government in December — and frontline health care workers would get priority for the 30,000 doses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet given emergency authorization for vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which in preliminary trials have indicated 95% effectiveness against the virus.
Those workers will require a second vaccination in January.
Brown made the announcement Wednesday, Nov. 25, on Thanksgiving Eve.
"COVID fatigue" is a real thing," she said to reporters during a virtual presentation with Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, plus the state health officer and the associate chief medical officer at Oregon Health & Science University.
"It's been a long year — and one that has been exceptionally challenging for Oregonians," Brown continued. "Not only have we been dealing with this pandemic, we also suffered through a heartbreaking and historic wildfire season. So many families have lost so much this year.
"Unfortunately, now, more than ever, is the time we must double down on our efforts to stop COVID from spreading."
Like most other states, Oregon has seen a dramatic increase in the number of confirmed and presumed cases of the coronavirus. Brown and health officials urged people to limit Thanksgiving gatherings to immediate family and curtail travel as ways to slow the spread of the virus.
OHA's Allen said he rejects the premise that no more steps should be taken to combat it.
"The harsh reality is this: There is no new normal while the virus rages unchecked and the touch points of daily life … could make you sick," he said.
From the governor's statement, these restrictions will be in effect for "extreme risk" counties starting Dec. 3:
• Social and at-home gatherings with people from outside a household will be limited to a maximum of six people, with a recommended limit of two households.
• Restaurants, bars, and other eating and drinking establishments will be limited to a maximum of 50 people for outdoor dining only, with only six people per table. Takeout is strongly encouraged.
• Indoor recreation, fitness, and entertainment establishments, including gyms, will remain closed. Outdoor recreation, fitness, and entertainment activities, including outdoor gym activities, will be allowed, with a maximum limit of 50 people outdoors.
• Retail stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, and indoor and outdoor shopping centers and malls will be limited to a maximum of 50% of capacity, with curbside pickup encouraged.
• Faith institutions, funeral homes, mortuaries, and cemeteries will be limited to a maximum of 25% of capacity or 100 people indoors, whichever is smaller, or 150 people outdoors.
• Office workplaces will be required to utilize remote work to the maximum extent possible, with public-facing offices closed to the public.
• Personal services businesses will be allowed to continue to operate with health and safety measures in place.
• Long-term care facilities can allow limited outdoor visitation, following established health and safety protocols.
Counties that are successful in reducing their COVID-19 risk levels in the coming weeks and months will be able to incrementally move to lower risk levels.
"We believe that by implementing this framework, it will help us better manage the impact of COVID-19 through the winter, until we can defeat the pandemic through emerging therapeutics and hopefully soon, the availability of proven vaccines," Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer and state epidemiologist, said at the presentation.
School metrics for K-12 schools and health and safety guidance for child care remain unchanged under this framework.
The easing of restaurant restrictions under the current freeze to allow limited outdoor dining was not a concession to the industry, Brown said in response to a question.
The freeze, she said, "was not designed to last over the long haul. As I said earlier, we had been in the process of developing these metrics. There are only a couple of circumstances of very minor changes in terms of the freeze to extreme risk."
NOTE: Story is updated with comments from Gov. Brown and others during press availability on Wednesday, Nov. 25.
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