Governor Kate Brown on Friday threatened further restrictions on businesses and travel to and from Oregon if the state’s coronavirus outlook doesn’t start improving more rapidly by the end of next month.
Oregon’s per capita case counts remain lower than most states, and many key indicators for measuring the spread of Covid-19 show that these numbers are declining further still — but not quickly enough, according to Brown.
“We have truly slowed the spread of the virus,” she said in a press conference with state public health officials. “It’s still not enough. The infection rate is too high to get all of our kids safely back in the classroom this fall.”
The number of new infections has stabilized at around 300 per day, while the governor says Oregon must reduce that number to 60 or less to meet her office’s criteria for safely reopening schools.
At the current rates, Oregon would reach that threshold in about 200 days, or mid-March 2021, according to the state’s latest modeling report. However, if the state’s average transmission rate of 1.0 — meaning each sick individual is infecting one more — were to fall just a quarter of a point, to 0.75, “we can get it done in as little as six weeks,” Brown said.
“When it comes to controlling the virus, we have the tools,” she said, which she boiled down to the now-standard wearing face coverings at all times in public, maintaining at least six feet of distance from others, limiting gathering sizes, frequent hand washing and compliance with isolation and quarantine protocols. “We need everyone to use them.”
Saying the state is at a turning point, she issued an ultimatum: Comply with existing policies to stem the spread of Covid-19, or else she will add more restrictions, including potential business closures and a travel ban.
“I believe, and the data indicate, that either one of these strategies will work,” she said. “Either one will drive down the spread of the virus more quickly. Either one gives us a fighting chance to open up in-person instruction in K-12 education in much of the state later this fall. But one path has a far greater cost than the other.”
Those costs include real and often devastating impacts on individuals and families, she acknowledged, and can come in the form of lost income, food and housing insecurity, increased stress and mental health challenges, self-harm, domestic violence and suicide.
“Economic costs have real health consequences,” she said. “That’s why I have been so reluctant to order further business shutdowns. We can wrestle this virus to the ground and set an example for the nation. I know that local leaders, businesses and workers can step up and get the job done.”
See the full media availability with Governor Brown, Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen and State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger below: