Brown: 'Normalcy' in sight as Oregon approaches vaccination goal
Oregon is about 90,000 people short of its goal to get at least one shot of vaccine into the arms of the state's eligible adults in order to lift most COVID-19 restrictions by June 25, state officials said Friday, June 11.
"We are so close to fully reopening our economy," Gov. Kate Brown said during an afternoon press conference.
Brown has said when 70% of eligible adults are vaccinated statewide, she will lift mask, social distance, restaurant occupancy, audience size and other limits in all 36 counties. The official mark as of noon Friday: 67%.
After a spring that saw Oregon residents racing to get vaccinated, the pace has slowed to the point that supply far outstrips demand. The Oregon Health Authority reported Friday that 15,761 doses of COVID vaccines per day were being administered. That is down from an early April peak that saw more than 50,000 shots administered on some days.
To date, 2,303,485 people in Oregon have had at least one dose.
Like most states, Oregon is left with a remaining eligible population who either haven't found the time and opportunity for vaccination, or are hesitant for personal reasons. As yet unknown is how many eligible adults are opposed to inoculations — what OHA once termed "vaccine belligerent." County vaccination rates for getting one shot into eligible arms range from 34% in rural Lake County to nearly 71% in the tech hub areas of Washington County near Portland.
Brown and state officials presented a mix of optimism, frustration and concern about the COVID-19 situation in Oregon. While recent legislative action allowed her to announce an extension of a mortgage foreclosure moratorium through the end of September, Brown said she had not yet received legislative authority to extend the rental eviction moratorium set to expire June 30.
With the Legislature set to adjourn no later than June 27, Brown said she hoped there was still time to act and give renters "safe harbor" for July. But she advised renters to take steps now and not assume the law would be extended.
"Please apply today for rental assistance to pay your July rent," Brown said.
The backlog of earlier unpaid rent is covered by a schedule in prior legislation, but as of July 1, there is no special dispensation for rental payment or eviction proceedings.
"I'm calling on landlords across the state to work with tenants to avoid evictions," she said.
Information on programs for both renters and landlords could be found online at https://www.oregonrentalassistance.org, https://www.lcf.oregon.gov, or by calling 211 to ask questions.
"We have made it through this pandemic by looking out for one another," Brown said.
Clusters of new infections
COVID-19 infection trends are good, according to Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist. Oregon reported 1,720 new COVID-19 cases in the most recent week, the lowest since September 2020, before the autumn and winter spike. Hospitalizations and deaths are also trending lower.
The current rate of spread is 0.66, meaning each infected person spreads the disease to less than one person. That will ensure a continued decline that could push daily totals to about 100 cases per day and five hospitalizations.
Even the most pessimistic forecast has overall cases declining, but to 135 per day and seven hospitalizations.
Sidelinger emphasized that the numbers combined what infectious disease experts see as two different pandemics. People who have been vaccinated make up a tiny fraction of new cases. Guidelines to loosen restrictions on interactions with others show inoculation is the key to safely returning to a lifestyle close to normal.
"If you are not vaccinated, the virus still rages," Sidelinger said.
Brown said she had complete confidence that the state would reach the 70% goal for one shot in eligible adults by the June 25 goal date. She noted the $1 million state lottery prize that those vaccinated are automatically entered to win. Another $10,000 prize can be won in each county.
Brown urged those who were vaccinated by the federal Veterans Administration or in another state to register for the lottery at https://www.takeyourshot.oregon.gov.
Health officials say they are concerned that once the 70% mark is met and restrictions are relaxed across the state, clusters of new infections could arise in areas where vaccination rates have been low.
Many of the areas are in less populous parts of Central and Eastern Oregon, where medical care and hospital beds are less available. More remote areas could experience overtaxed emergency response and medical care systems.
Brown said hospitals are woven into a network of emergency COVID-19 care. "We have a well-developed system that works on the local level and with neighboring states," Brown said.
But specific points in the system can quickly become overwhelmed and moving patients takes time.
Sidelinger said unvaccinated Oregonians are also potential hosts for new variants of the virus, which could spread faster and be potentially more severe.
Saying the pandemic would have "no easy exit," Sidelinger urged the unvaccinated or those with compromised immune systems who might not receive the full benefit of inoculations to continue to wear masks and socially distance, even when the time comes that the state lifts mandatory restrictions.
The recovery does not equal "going back to life as it was in 2019," Sidelinger said.
'Some level of normalcy'
Brown rejected the suggestion from some in the business community that Oregon should cut unemployment benefits as a way to get more people to search for work. Some conservatives say higher benefits during the pandemic have served as a disincentive to people on unemployment to accept work at the lower end of the wage scale.
Brown said she believed that the hesitancy to go back to work was due to a number of factors, including fear of the virus, the costs associated with a return to working and the lack of affordable, dependable and convenient child care.
Brown said Oregon had low infection and death rates throughout the pandemic and was doing "substantially better" on most public health measurements than other states.
While the pandemic is far from over, she said hitting the 70% mark for one shot of vaccine in adults would be a major step. "We can return to some level of normalcy," she said.
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