As pandemic surges, Oregon governor orders a 'pause'
Gov. Kate Brown has ordered a two-week pause with new limits on social gatherings, indoor dining and visits to long-term-care facilities as new coronavirus infections surge in Oregon.
All three Portland metro area counties are affected by the pause, which takes effect Wednesday, Nov. 11, and run through Nov. 25, Thanksgiving Eve.
The pause affects nine counties now, including Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. Other counties are Baker, Jackson, Malheur, Marion, Umatilla and Union. Five counties were announced Nov. 6; four were added Tuesday. This list replaces the "watch list" that the state has maintained since July.
Large counties get on the new list if they report 200 new cases per 100,000 population within a two-week period. For counties of fewer than 30,000, the threshold is 60 new cases within two weeks.
Social gatherings are limited to six people, or immediate members of a household, and their frequency should be limited. Brown and other officials said people also should cancel large in-person gatherings for Thanksgiving or TV-watching parties for football games.
"This is a wake-up call." — Gov. Kate Brown
"They continue to be the main culprit of community spread in Oregon," Brown said at a virtual briefing for reporters Friday. "The data prove that not all Oregonians are listening."
Restaurant indoor dining is limited to 50 people, including staff, and indoor recreational activities are limited to 50 people per venue. Restaurant dining groups are limited to six people each. The restriction does not apply to religious gatherings "at this time."
Indoor visits to long-term-care facilities are suspended.
"This is a wake-up call," Brown said. "We do not want to take further action to stop the spread of COVID-19, because I know it will have a devastating impact on our businesses both large and small. But I will, to protect the health and safety of Oregonians."
She spoke after the Oregon Health Authority announced a record 805 cases Thursday and 770 Friday. She said most have resulted from community spread, rather than specific outbreaks that can be traced more readily.
"More people will become infected in the coming weeks if we do not do something right now," Rachael Banks, the state public health director, said.
Brown said the rising number of infections threatens Oregon's hospital capacity. Portland area hospitals have reported that use of beds in intensive-care units is approaching 90% of capacity. Hospitals elsewhere are reviewing their status.
"If we do not see the growth of COVID-19 slow in our communities, we will be well on our way to maxing out our hospital bed capacity," she said. "Additional closures may be imminent in two weeks if we do not see reduced case counts. It is my sincere hope that we can drive down the numbers before the Thanksgiving holiday."
Brown said repeatedly during the briefing that she does not want to reimpose strict lockdowns as she did in the initial stages of the pandemic in mid-March.
"This virus isn't going away," Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer and state epidemiologist, said during the call. He said more people without apparent symptoms are spreading the virus — and that spread is made easier when large numbers of people are indoors eating and drinking, when they are not wearing face coverings.
Sidelinger said the start date was set on Wednesday, Nov. 11, "because we wanted to give them time to prepare."
From the governor's press release, listed below are the measures that come with the two-week pause:
• Urging all businesses to mandate work from home to the greatest extent possible.
• Pausing long-term-care facility visits that take place indoors to protect staff and residents.
• Reducing maximum restaurant capacity to 50 people (including customers and staff) for indoor dining, with a maximum party size of six. Continuing to encourage outdoor dining and takeout orders.
• Reducing the maximum capacity of other indoor activities to 50 people. Includes gyms, fitness organizations/studios, bowling alleys, ice rinks, indoor sports, pools, and museums.
• Limiting social gatherings to an immediate household, or no more than six people if the gathering includes those from outside your household, reducing the frequency of those social gatherings (significantly in a two-week period), and keeping the same six people in your social gathering circle.
Brown urges congressional action on new pandemic aid
Gov. Kate Brown also called on Congress to approve another pandemic aid package.
Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act on March 27, but much of that money has been spent. A new plan has been caught in political disputes between Trump and Congress, the Democratic majority in the House and the Republican majority in the Senate. The House passed a $3.4 trillion HEROES Act May 15, and a scaled-back $2.2 trillion plan before Tuesday's election. The Senate has failed to advance a $500 billion plan, which Democrats in both chambers say is inadequate but Republicans argue is affordable.
Congress plans a post-election session, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now says some form of aid is on the table.
Brown said that in addition to aid for state and local governments — something Republicans have resisted — a follow-up plan should resume the extra $600-per-week unemployment benefits that were paid until the end of July.
In Oregon, those payments totaling $2.9 billion were about twice the amount of regular unemployment benefits ($1.6 billion) drawn from a state trust fund. They accounted for a good chunk of the estimated $7 billion in federal assistance from the CARES Act to individuals in Oregon.
The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, which does the state's quarterly economic and revenue forecasts, also estimated that businesses drew $7 billion in federal assistance from the CARES Act.
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