Public health officials: Shelter-in-place orders aren't viable
A who's-who of Oregon's public health officials told reporters Thursday, March 19, that plans for shelter-in-place orders to combat the novel coronavirus would be premature.
Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday she had no plans to issue a shelter-in-place order for the state, though Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said he was considering such a measure, which would bar people from leaving their homes except for essential services.
But rather than require people to stay inside, Jennifer Vines, the Tri-County Health Officer for Multnomah County, said public health officials across the state are united in the state's approach of encouraging everyone to practice so-called "social distancing."
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 detailed 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.
Many businesses also are considered to be essential under a shelter-in-place order, ranging from hospitals and grocery stores to food banks, gas stations, banks and hardware stores, among others, according to Wheeler.
For many, Vines said, the issue comes down to a problem of definitions.
Shelter-in-place orders are used during major disasters, such as hurricanes or nuclear fall-out.
"It means to lock down, because danger is happening and you think the danger will pass by in matter of days," Vines said.
But public health officials warn Oregon is at the beginning, not the end, of its efforts to combat COVID-19.
Asking Oregonians to stay indoors for weeks, possibly months, isn't feasible, Vines said. Instead, Oregonians should prioritize their health. Work from home, if possible, stay home when they are feeling ill and avoid large groups of people.
Vines wouldn't say what circumstances would have to happen in order for public health officials to endorse shelter-in-place orders, saying the situation shifts daily.
"A few weeks ago we never would have dreamed of closing schools, now, of course schools are closed."
Vines said she could understand why elected officials would be considering such a measure.
"They have heard clearly from us that measures to combat this need to be done early and they need to be big," Vines said.
While public health officials aren't recommending shelter-in-place orders, Vines said the "spirit" of those requirements are something Oregonians should take seriously.
"People should be staying away from others as much as they possibly can."
Public health officials at Thursday's press conference said people should be encouraged to go outdoors, especially as Oregon's warm weather arrives. Walking the dog, jogging and other outdoor activities should remain part of Oregonians' regular routines.
The risk of exposure to COVID-19 outdoors is considerably less, provided people keep to at least three feet apart from one another.
"Everyone is worried," Vines said. "Rightfully so. I'm worried, too. But we all need to use common sense."
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