SALEM — Just hours before Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Friday night that he's open to requiring most city residents stay at home to slow the spread of coronavirus, state legislators debated whether such an order should be made statewide.
Top doctors from Oregon Health and Science University told the Legislature's coronavirus response committee Friday they would support such a move.
"We believe more extreme measures are appropriate," OHSU President Danny Jacobs said, responding to the current social distancing restrictions. "If we underprepare and underreact, more Oregonians could die."
Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, asked whether it was it was time to tell people to quit playing beer pong and to stop using park playground equipment. "Yes" was the resounding reply from physicians.
The place to start, Jacobs said, is to require everyone to stay home except for essential work and vital errands.
Committee members wondered how that could work.
Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, said truckers who deliver needed supplies should be considered essential, not just health care workers and emergency responders. Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, added the importance of farmers and farmworkers.
"Coming up with consistent ideas of what it means to be considered an essential service is going to be important to all us," said committee co-chair Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay.
Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, a former military officer, likened a potential stay-home mandate to a war in that it requires intensive resources and time: You get into it easily, but you don't get out of it easily
Gov. Brown said earlier Friday that she would issue such an order only if Oregonians fail to heed the aggressive mandates she already has issued. They include limiting the size of public or private gatherings and closing schools, restaurant dining rooms and bars.
California, New York and Illinois have issued stay-at-home orders, generally allowing residents to leave their residence only if they hold jobs that are classified as essential, are getting groceries or other immediate supplies, are obtaining medical care or are exercising outside without coming into contact with others.
As of Friday morning, Oregon had 114 cases of COVID-19, including the first ones in Grant and Union counties. That total, which represents reported cases since Jan. 24, is an increase of 26 cases from the previous day.
OHSU officials cautioned that the actual number lags behind the daily tally because it may take someone several days to develop symptoms. Then, once they get tested – if they do — there's another delay before the lab results are reported to the Oregon Health Authority. They said it won't be known for several weeks whether the current social distancing practices are slowing the virus' spread.
The lack of accurate data troubled Findley. "I think we're running with a lot of guess-timations rather than numbers we really can stand on," he said.
OHSU officials called for wider testing of Oregonians and for obtaining more personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers. If there were enough test kits, ideally everyone would be tested, said Dr. Renee Edwards, OHSU's chief medical officer.
The governor this week requested 300,000 test swabs, 1 million N-95 surgical masks and 140 ventilators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Legislators, holding their meeting in person and by video conference, went through dozens of ideas for dealing with the health, economic and social impacts of coronavirus. They will resume their discussions at 9 a.m. Monday.
Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, said he hoped they would receive the governor's list of budget and policy requests by then, as they work through proposals for the first of what they expect will be several special sessions legislative sessions responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
Added Roblan: "We don't know how this virus is going to react. We don't know how long this is going to last."
Dick Hughes is a reporter for the Oregon Capital Bureau.
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