Reopening Oregon: Governor Brown to Announce Plans for COVID-19 Testing and Contact Tracing

Governor Kate Brown will be holding a press conference Friday morning COVID-19 to share her plans for testing and contact tracing as part of her framework for reopening Oregon. She will be joined by representatives from the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Health & Science University.

Members of the media have been asked to attend virtually, by teleconference. The event has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. and will also be livestreamed on YouTube.

Earlier this week, the governor’s office released a more detailed draft framework of her vision for relaxing the state’s stay-home order, which included some sector-specific guidance for child care providers, retail stores, shopping centers and malls, and restaurants, bars, taprooms and tasting rooms.

One item that raised eyebrows around the state was asking all businesses to “consider” keeping records of the names, contact information and date/time of visit for
customers, for purposes of contract tracing if needed.

“Businesses should inform customers/visitors of the reason the information is being collected and how the information will be used,” the draft document suggests, offering the following language as an example: “This business is collecting basic information to share with public health in the event a Covid-19 case is identified associated with this business.”

Click to access Draft-Governor-Reopen-Oregon.pdf

While the image brought to the minds of some dystopian visions of an Oregon ruled by iron-fisted communists, contact tracing is a long-established practice in epidemiology that has helped bring many outbreaks under control, and has also been used successfully in the fight against Covid-19, such as in South Korea.

(And, you know, if the government really wanted to know where you are at any given time, they could probably just ask Google.)

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But, the proposal has drawn concerns from more than just conspiracy theorists. The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, which represents about 2,600 businesses around the state, sent the governor’s office a letter this week calling the idea “problematic” and stating that they were “adamantly opposed.”

“We understand the value of contact tracing documentation but do not believe it is in the best interests of the state or operators to require a form be signed by customers,” the letter said. “Policies that set up scenarios where employees and customers engage in confrontational behavior is highly concerning.”

Other sector-specific guidance for dining out included that tables be spaced at least six feet apart and parties be limited to no more than 10 (parties who choose to eat together would not be required to maintain physical distancing).

Total occupancy must also be limited to no more than half of normal capacity as long as physical distancing requirements can be maintained. Customer self-service operations, including buffets, salad bars, soda machines and growler refilling stations, would be prohibited.

Condiments, such as salt, pepper and ketchup, and menus would be required to be single-use or disinfected after every use. Use of karaoke machines, pool tables, and bowling would also be prohibited, under the current draft guidelines.

The governor’s office has stressed that the guidelines are draft only and are subject to change. A finalized version is expected by Monday, May 4.

On Wedneday, Republicans in the House and Senate criticized Governor Brown for what they characterized as a lack of bipartisanship in her formation of the draft guidelines for reopening the state, calling it “unacceptable.”

“The executive and legislative branches and leaders from both parties in all regions of the state must work together to reopen Oregon’s economy,” read the joint statement from Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod and House Republican Leader Christine Drazan. “We can work together to reopen our state and get Oregonians back to work.”

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