Brown Again Urges Vaccination As State Clamps 'Extreme Risk' Restrictions On 15 Counties

Kate Brown at the Salem Fairgrounds clinic in January Abigail Dollins from The Salem Statesman Journal.jpg

Gov. Kate Brown and public health officials on Friday urged Oregonians to get vaccinated as 15 counties moved into the state’s COVID-19 extreme risk level that bans indoor restaurant dining and restricts other activities. 

Brown defended her decision to put more than one-third of Oregon’s 36 counties into the extreme risk level, the most restrictive tier in the state’s four-step framework for public health measures. Each county gets assigned a level based on its local case and infection rate. The framework also has a statewide trigger: More than 300 Oregonians with COVID-19 must be hospitalized before any county can be moved into the extreme risk category. 

Public health officials said their modeling predicted that putting the new restrictions in place would save an estimated 176 lives this summer, most of them within the first month. 

“As your governor, I chose to save lives,” Brown said.

Cases have risen by more than 20% each week for five weeks straight and more young people are entering hospitals with COVID-19. Hospitalized cases of people 18 to 34 with COVID-19 have increased by nearly 50%. 

Brown said her choice was either to do nothing or do a “temporary tightening” of COVID-19 restrictions. Brown also tried to give Oregonians her plan for an end-game. The COVID-19 restrictions can be lifted by late June and Oregon “return to a sense of normalcy,” Brown said. But to get there, residents need to get vaccinated, she said.

“Vaccinations are the key to moving us out of extreme risk,” Brown said. “We can reopen our economy and move forward to post-pandemic life.”

So far, more than half of all adult Oregonians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, Brown said. 

Statewide, out of Oregon’s population of 4.2 million, some 1.3 million people are fully vaccinated. Another 566,000 have started the process of getting both doses. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses spaced several weeks apart. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires just one dose. The vaccine is only approved for adults 16 and older. Manufacturers are researching vaccines for children. Oregon has approximately 700,000 residents under the age of 16.

Brown said her goal to reopening in June is tied to having a “solid majority of Oregonians” vaccinated, including communities of color that have struggled to access vaccines. 

It’s unclear that that “solid majority” will look like -- or how close Oregon already is to achieving that goal. When asked, Brown and Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, on Friday were unable to say what percentage of Oregonians would need to be vaccinated to reach a “solid majority.” However, every person who gets vaccinated helps drive down cases, Sidelinger said.

The 15 counties are Clackamas and Multnomah counties in the Portland area along with Baker, Columbia, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Marion, Polk and Wasco counties.

Various experts have estimated that herd immunity, the level at which so many people are vaccinated that the virus begins to die out, could be anywhere from 70% to 90% of the total population, including children. In Oregon, that’s a range of between 2.9 million and 3.8 million people.

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.

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