State Blames ‘Social Gatherings’ for Rise in Covid-19

The state’s tally of those with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus wasn’t the only thing that rose with the latest report from Oregon Health Authority Friday; the activities that public officials chose to blame for the recent uptick also raised some eyebrows.

“Social gatherings” — including graduations, birthday parties, weddings and holiday celebrations — are increasing the spread of Covid-19, officials say, with confirmed outbreaks that have been traced to exercise classes, a fraternity party and a bachelor party, though the state declined to provide other details such as where these gatherings occurred or how large they were.

Contact tracers have also identified an outbreak linked to a “social gathering” in Clackamas County, but local officials would not provide other information, citing privacy concerns.

“Since Oregon began reopening, we have seen spread of Covid-19 when people get together to celebrate with family and friends,” the Oregon Health Authority said. “While it is difficult not to celebrate these events as we have in the past, Covid-19 is spreading in our communities and people must think hard about altering daily routines that may put people at risk.”

Absent the state’s list is any mention of the protests against racial inequality and police violence that have been held throughout Oregon since May, including Canby. A similarly sized gathering was held here a few weeks later, in support of the police.

While the Canby events were peaceful, socially distanced and featured some-200 attendees each, some of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations have drawn thousands — particularly those in Portland that have been happening on a nightly basis.

A large group marches in a Black Lives Matter protest. Photo by Nour Chamoun on Scopio.

Health officials have consistently denied any connection between the Black Lives Matter protests and the rise in Covid-19, saying that the spread was limited by protesters’ use of masks and gathering outdoors in the sun and wind.

In Oregon, the state’s top epidemiologist and other officials have said there is no evidence the protests have led to large clusters or significant transmission of the coronavirus, instead blaming the spike on much smaller indoor gatherings and workplace outbreaks.

In its daily newsletter Friday, OHA encouraged Oregonians to limit their attendance at social gatherings with family and friends, or suggest an outdoor or online alternative.

“We know these conversations aren’t easy,” the health authority said. “It can feel like you’re judging other people’s decisions or like you’re overreacting. But Covid-19 is serious, and these precautions can make a difference.”

The state has reported more than 300 new cases of Covid-19 five of the past nine days, including a record 389 on Thursday. Cases are rising so fast, the state says, that even a 10 percent reduction in the current rate would not slow the rise.

“The bottom line is that the disease is spreading more rapidly than expected and that since reopening, Oregonians have not consistently modeled the behavior needed to contain the spread of Covid-19,” OHA said.

According to the state’s most recent modeling, daily infections would continue to triple over the next month, with hospitalizations increasing at a similar rate.

Officials encourage all residents to do their part in curbing the spread of the virus, including wearing a face mask in public, practicing good hygiene and frequent hand washing, staying home if you are sick and limiting the size of social gatherings.

Photo by Nour Chamoun on Scopio.

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