Shelter-In-Place Not Necessary, Portland-Area Public Health Officials Say

Health officials representing Clackamas, Clark, Columbia, Multnomah and Washington counties say social distancing is enough to safeguard people from coronavirus and that government-mandated orders to stay home shouldn’t be necessary.

Shelter-in-place policies are typically used in crises that last a few days, not weeks or months, and are difficult to enforce, the officials said during a joint news conference Thursday. Instead they urged people to take all voluntary measures to limit trips and contact with other people.

“I think everyone is worried and rightfully so,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, lead health officer for Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. “I’m worried too and right now the best thing everyone can do is use common sense, take care of your needs but please, please limit your contact with others as much as you possibly can.”

She urged people to consider a “staycation” this spring break, staying close to home and with people they typically interact with.

The five-county public health message comes after Portland drafted a shelter-in-place policy within city limits that would ban non-essential travel from home. Gov. Kate Brown told reporters Thursday morning that she doesn’t plan to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order.

It’s unclear what a shelter-in-place policy would mean for people without stable housing.

Vines said she understood why Portland would draft such a policy but reiterated that forcing people to stay home should be a last resort. She said she believes the city’s and counties’ stance on the topic align in all except the terminology and the mandatory versus highly recommended nature of the guidance.

Clackamas County Health Officer Dr. Sarah Present said defining what are essential and non-essential activities to everyone can be difficult and insisting people remain indoors could negatively affect people’s mental and physical health. She also said the likelihood of coronavirus transmission is lower outside than in.

Social isolation can also seriously hamper rural communities, communities with immigrants and people of color as well as elderly and young residents.

“We do not want to risk people feeling trapped indoors or afraid to fulfill their essential needs,” Present said. As long as people stay at least six feet from each other, they should be free to “enjoy the sunshine,” she said.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said earlier Thursday the city drafted a shelter in place policy to try to prevent a massive spike of coronavirus cases in the city. Wheeler said city officials are in touch with Multnomah County and state authorities, but ultimately he wants Portland to “stay ahead of the virus.”

Wheeler said activities that would be allowed if the city were to enact its draft order include going to the grocery store, the doctor or the veterinarian’s office; traveling to care for a family member or a pet in another household; or picking up food from a restaurant. Social distancing guidelines would still apply.

Wheeler’s office declined comment regarding the county health officers’ news conference.

Also Thursday, the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems said it would support a shelter-in-place order.

Molly Harbarger of The Oregonian/OregonLive contributed to this report.

-- Everton Bailey Jr; [email protected] | 503-221-8343 | @EvertonBailey

This article was originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive, one of two dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving health issue.

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