Governor acts to slow virus spread, imposes limits statewide on indoor gatherings

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

SALEM – Gov. Kate Brown on Monday announced she is banning any indoor gathering of more than 10 people as the state braces for a tripling in the coming weeks in the number of Covid infections.

“We are at risk of allowing the virus to spiral out of control,” Brown said at a Monday news briefing.

Brown and her health advisers said a recent surge in Covid infections has been traced in part to social gatherings such as weddings, house parties and birthday celebrations.

The new limit on gatherings takes effect on Wednesday, July 15. The requirement doesn’t apply to businesses or churches, which are operating under separate restrictions.

She also mandated that Oregonians wear masks outdoors when social distancing can’t be followed, meaning that people can’t stay 6 feet away. Until now, the use of face coverings outdoors in such circumstances has been recommended, but not emphasized by state authorities.

Brown noted that restaurants and bars, which opened to sit-down dining last month under restrictions, don’t appear to be “a significant source of transmission.”

However, she said the state was stepping up its enforcement of state mandates for businesses. Retailers and other businesses are required to enforce mask use by both employees and customers when indoors.

Brown said people would have to enforce the new indoor limits themselves.

“I’m not going to set up the party police,” she said, but if such gatherings continue to be a source of new infections, “I will be forced to take more restrictive measures.”

The governor said state health data shows that half of Oregon’s new cases of Covid are infecting people under 40 and one-third are under the age of 30. When the pandemic started earlier this year, health authorities had warned that elderly people and those with compromised health were most at risk of becoming infected.

“This virus is extremely contagious,” Brown said.

The state reported a total of 12,170 cases as of Sunday, including 234 deaths linked to Covid.

Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said modeling indicates that Oregon could see cases triple in the next six weeks – just as schools are opening.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer, said even if the state slowed the spread by 10 percent, more infections are coming.

“The disease is spreading more and more quickly,” he said.

The governor said most Oregonians appear to be following the mandate to wear face coverings but “we have a few outliers.” She those are “putting lives at risk.”

Brown said the spreading infections isn’t changing her course of children returning to school in as soon as a month.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure that schools can open in the fall,” she said.

Decisions about whether schools put students back in classrooms or rely on distance learning are being made with detailed guidance from state officials but is being controlled at the local level, Brown said.

She said she would take a “granular, targeted approach” with local authorities to decide whether a return to the classroom isn’t possible.

Brown said she had no firm date set to decide. Allen noted that health authorities are still learning about the virus and circumstances change “week by week, day by day.”

The governor’s announcement came as the Malheur County Court prepared its own action on local restrictions. The court is scheduled to vote on Wednesday to limit indoor gatherings to 10 and outdoor gatherings to 25.

Reach editor Les Zaitz by email at [email protected].


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