Oregon public health group, joined by emergency room physicians, want stronger steps to slow coronavirus

PMG FILE PHOTO - A group of 400 Oregon public health professionals is urging Gov. Kate Brown to issue a statewide 'shelter in place' order banning non-essential trips. The state's hospitals have already urged her to do the same. The Oregon Public Health Association on Friday morning took a position urging Gov. Kate Brown to take action on a number of measures including a statewide shelter-in-place order.

A group of emergency room physicians followed suit hours later. The Oregon chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians intends to issue a public statement later today, according to board member John Moorhead, a board member who works at Oregon Health & Sciences University and Doernbecher Children's Hospital.

Orders like this in some but not all areas have required "non-essential" businesses to close. Most such orders mandate that people stay home except for "essential" trips. The goal is to slow down the spread of the disease so that hospitals, already running short on vital medical supplies in the United States and overwhelmed in some parts of the world, can keep their workers healthy and also save as many lives as possible.

The Oregon public health group, however, is supporting a more permissive approach allowing even "non-essential" businesses to stay open if they can adhere to social distancing practices to limit the disease.

The group's board took the position in its Friday morning meeting after much discussion, and will fine-tune a statement before issuing it formally.

The goal of urging Brown to issue a shelter-in-place order is to "get ahead of the curve" and slow the spread of the disease to where it is manageable, as China has done, said Robb Hutson, president of the group's board. "It's better to be safe than sorry.

On Thursday, a mix of elected and public health officials told reporters that shelter-in-place orders would be premature. Partly because there is no one definition for "non-essential."

Under a shelter-in-place order, people would be asked not to leave their homes unless it's to complete "essential" tasks, which might include everything from visiting grocery stores, traveling to doctor's appointments or caring for a family member. As Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler put it on Twitter Thursday, "essential" tasks also can include taking a dog for a walk or even going on a hike, so long as appropriate social distancing measures are followed.

The association's vote is the latest in a series of events that up the pressure on Gov. Kate Brown and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury to follow the lead already taken by mayors, county leaders and governors in other states.

First, the chief medical officer of Oregon Health & Sciences University came out in favor of shelter in place on a local or state basis. Then, the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Associations publicly urged Brown to issue such an order. Mayor Ted Wheeler announced he is preparing for such a move but has not issued one, either.

But Brown and Kafoury have resisted the move, saying that the impact to businesses and Oregonians who are not in need of medical care would be too great, though Brown said she is open to changing her mind if it seems people are not voluntarily staying at home. She and Kafoury have expressed concern about the impact to the economy and the lives of people not in need of urgent medical care.

Hutson, who heads the Portland consulting firm The Rede Group, said the association's statement also will call on Brown to increase testing capacity for coronavirus and take steps to provide economic support for people hit by the pandemic's impact — not just with unemployment payments, but support for the "poorest" Oregonians, he said.

The public health association has more than 400 members including doctors, nurses and other public health workers, employed by both government and the private sector.

Moorhead, of the emergency physicians' group, said they want to be clear about the pressing need to slow coronavirus as hospitals around the state face dire lack of needed supplies. "There's a lot of anxiety," he said.

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