Gov. Brown: COVID-19 Cases Have To Drop For Classes To Reopen

Kate Brown displays a mask at a May press conference..png

Oregon classrooms will not cannot reopen this year unless the state does a better job of halting the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Kate Brown said Friday, warning that the state could face more restrictions if communities do not  quell infection rates. 

For now, Brown said she wants community leaders and businesses to step up efforts to enforce existing guidelines for face masks, quarantines, social distancing and crowd sizes. If that doesn’t work, Brown said that she may implement further restrictions. The list includes eliminating indoor seating in bars and restaurants, shuttering gyms and indoor event venues and putting a two-week quarantine in place for Oregonians who return from trips to out-of-state COVID-19 hotspots. 

 “We can wrestle this virus to the ground and set an example for the nation,” Brown said in a press conference with Oregon Health Authority officials.

More than 400 people have died from the virus in Oregon. COVID-19 cases have stabilized at about 300 new infections each day, but state health officials want that to drop to 60 daily cases or fewer for K-12 classrooms to open. That’s a change from 50 new cases each week for every 100,000 residents to 10 new cases a week for every 100,000 residents.

The test positivity rate, or the proportion of people who test positive for the virus, also needs to drop below 5%. The rate is currently 5.4%, down from a high of 6.2% in July, state data show. 

“We’re on the right track,” said Patrick Allen, director of the authority. “Now we need to step on the gas.”

Another metric state officials are looking for is a drop in the state’s rate of transmission. Currently, Oregon has a reproduction rate of 1 for the virus. That means that each person who contracts it infects another, keeping the virus spreading. State officials want to see the reproductive rate  drop to 0.75. In other words, if four people were infected, they would spread the virus to three others. A reproductive rate less than 1 means that the disease will lessen and eventually die out. Last week, Oregon had nearly 2,000 new cases, a 7% percent drop in infections from the week before.  Current state projections estimate it would take about one to two months to reach  a reproductive rate less than 1, according to a presentation the governor’s office distributed to lawmakers. 

Brown said community cooperation is needed to stem infections but noted that she’s met resistance. She said some unnamed community leaders have “pushed back” against restrictions, going so far as to say they won’t follow the rules. The governor also called out police. Brown said she’s concerned after hearing that some law enforcement officers are not wearing masks, calling that “absolutely unacceptable.” 

The governor made masks mandatory on July 1. 

The Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, or OSPIRG, pushed for a mask mandate before Brown’s mask requirement. The group also has pushed for Oregon to enact stricter action to fight the virus, such as restricting indoor seating in bars and restaurants. 

The group and its parent organization, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, has penned an open letter to policymakers calling for a wider shutdown to rein in the virus. More than 1,000 health experts and professionals, including two dozen in Oregon, have signed the letter. 

Numi Lee Griffith, patient health care advocate for OSPIRG, said it’s a good sign that the governor is eyeing more aggressive action, but she questions the wisdom of waiting for improvements before taking concrete steps to slow the virus. 

“Without actually doing top-down leadership and taking strong actions, we’re not going to see progress,” Griffith said. “We’re going to be stuck at this position where it’s not exploding and it’s not improving either. I would not be surprised if we see restrictions put in place next month.”

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


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