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'...I realize this may be difficult for people as the weather has gotten nicer.'

Oregon's victims of COVID-19 are also victims of inequitable distribution of power and resources in communities, and it's our responsibility to honor them by staying home if at all possible.

This importance is illustrated as Oregonians continue to thrive in light of Oregon's stay-at-home policy. Let's remember that everyone deserves to live, work and play in healthy, safe environments as dozens of counties begin to open up.

We have listened, as a state, to our healthcare workers and public health officials who have urged us all to be safe. Gov. Kate Brown, on March 16, issued an executive order directing Oregonians to stay home to flatten the curve. Thanks to that action, officials believe thousands of people were spared from COVID-19.

The sight of protesters rallying in Salem last month only brought extreme disappointment and frustration as we watched them demand our lawmakers ease restrictions against the recommendation of our public health experts and scientists. The stay-at-home orders were put in place to protect all Oregonians and have a significant effect on the wellbeing of our frontline workers and most vulnerable populations.

Nearly one in seven COVID-19 patients in Oregon are healthcare workers. The virus is overwhelmingly more fatal towards the elderly and people with health issues. New public health data released by the Oregon Health Authority show that 94% of deaths occur in patients older than 60, while up to 36% of total deaths involve pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes.

Nearly a whopping three in 10 people infected by COVID-19 identify as Hispanic, who only make 13 percent of the overall population in Oregon, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Lillian Shirley, the health authority's director, said recently her agency's analysis of zip codes most infected by COVID-19 "reflect the inequitable distribution of power and resources" in communities.

While infections in the Portland metro area, the state's most populous region, have largely spared inner-city neighborhoods, they disproportionately affect communities of color with lower income levels in areas east of East 82nd Avenue, and also in Hillsboro, and Gresham.

Our statewide community is beginning a time of reopening that will differ for so many of us. Public health officials on Thursday approved 31 counties to begin their plans to reopen parts of their communities after fulfilling requirements. The applications for Marion and Polk counties were not approved, while Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties will apply at later dates.

As both an avid outdoor enthusiast and resident within the metro area, I realize this may be difficult for people as the weather has gotten nicer. However, we urge folks to continue social distancing and listening to our health experts in charge of making the public health decisions. Doing so honors and protects our frontline workers and most vulnerable communities, and it keeps all of us safe.

Jamie Pang is environmental health program director for Oregon Environmental Council and a member of the board of directors for 350PDX.


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