Governor warns of tighter restrictions in Oregon if Covid cases continue to spread

Gov. Kate Brown in her Portland office (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

SALEM – Gov. Kate Brown warned Oregonians on Saturday they need to take the coronavirus more seriously or risk renewed limits.

The Oregon Health Authority reported 277 new cases of Covid, pushing the state’s total to 8,094 with 202 deaths. Infection rates have increased in recent days in some locations across Oregon.

“They are extremely alarming,” Brown said in a news conference.

She said “all options are on the table” concerning how she would respond if the infections continue to spread.

“I would hope to avoid a wholesale shutdown of the economy,” Brown said. But if pandemic numbers continue to worsen, “We will need to start buttoning down the economy.”

Effective last week, people in seven Oregon counties are required to wear face masks if they work at or go into public places such as grocery stores, retailers and offices. Clatsop County, on the Oregon coast, voluntarily is imposing the mandate starting Wednesday, July 1.

Elsewhere in the country, governors in some states have reversed course on openings as reported Covid infections have surged. That includes Florida and Texas.

Brown said she isn’t yet ready to order a statewide mandate that people wear masks in public. She said she is monitoring the capacity of hospitals and the health care system to handle seriously ill virus patients.

The Northwest Grocery Association in a statement after her news conference pleaded with the public to wear masks when shopping. Workers in groceries are required to wear masks when on duty.

“Your grocery stores and retailers can’t do it alone,” said Amanda Dalton, the association’s legislative director. “We urge all in our communities to join us in this call to protect our neighbors and employees. Please wear your mask!”

The state health authority reported that nearly eight out of 10 people infected with Covid haven’t required hospitalization. As of Friday, the state reported 53 people being treated in hospital intensive care units.

“Available evidence suggests average severity of illness among reported cases is lower than it was early in the outbreak: hospitalizations and deaths remain well below their peaks, even after reported cases have been surging for 4 weeks, and the percentage of emergency department visits attributable to COVID-19-like symptoms remains below 1%,” the health authority said in a report on Wednesday, June 24. “ICU bed usage remains well under capacity statewide.”

In Malheur County, authorities reported 13 new cases on Saturday, pushing the total number of people testing positive since March to 97. Lake County has a total of 13 cases and Baker and Grant counties to date have each had only a single reported Covid case.

In March, Brown ordered a shutdown across the state, ordering some professions such as hairdressers to close and limiting others, such as restaurants. She ordered people stay home except for essential trips. The moves, reflected to varying degrees in other states, left thousands of Oregonians unemployed and led some business owners to decide to close for good.

 In recent weeks, Brown has eased up on those restrictions, with health authorities warning that Oregonians should expect to see the number of reported infections climb.

Brown said the sacrifices of the spring need to be safeguarded by public behavior now.

“We have to keep that up,” she said. “Stay home if you are sick. Wear face coverings if you are out in public. As we head into the Fourth of July holiday season, I encourage and cajole Oregonians to keep it local.”

She said holiday celebrations should be limited to family. She said the state saw a spike in cases after the Memorial Day weekend.

She said the state is working on new rules to give businesses more authority to turn away customers who don’t wear masks. She also said state regulators would be stepping up business enforcement.    


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