READ FOR YOURSELF: Full text of pandemic remarks by Oregon Health Authority director

Oregon Health Authority director Pat Allen sits in his office on Monday, April 20. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

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The Governor described the new framework and the COVID-19 protections we’re putting in place. Dr. Sidelinger provided some of the medical science that undergirds the preventive measures we’ve implemented across a range of activities linked to COVID-19 transmission, when counties are facing different levels of risk.

What I want to talk about is the necessary balance these protections strike between precaution and pragmatism.

Oregonians will never leave each other to fend for themselves during any crisis, especially a pandemic.

We will never be a state that puts a dollar value on the life of a grandmother adored by her family, a bread-winning father with diabetes or an exhausted nurse working overtime in an intensive care unit and say: “it’s too expensive, intrusive or inconvenient to ask your neighbors to protect you.”

And watching out for each other also means we recognize that human health is full and complex in its dimensions.

We know there are many casualties of COVID-19 among people who’ve never contracted the virus. While they aren’t documented in our infection and testing rates, the virus has harmed them too: it’s stolen their livelihoods, their homes or their emotional well-being, without ever having attacked their bodies.

Their losses matter. We’ll never be a state that takes a narrow view of health and refuses to take their experience into account, either.

At the Oregon Health Authority, we’re paying attention to collateral effects of the COVID-19 pandemic: the impact on behavioral health, indicators of toxic stress, barriers to medical care, economic underpinnings of health and other measures of health and stability in people’s lives.

Looking at the data, you won’t be surprised to hear that COVID-19 has had damaging effects beyond the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

•Let’s start with behavioral health: In mid-July, nearly 50 percent of adult Oregonians experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to a new monthly household survey conducted by the CDC. That percent tapered off in the early fall, but has begun to rise again.

•Substance use is another indicator of well-being: In March, as the pandemic too hold, Cannabis sales spiked almost 40 percent (from monthly sales of $70 million to nearly $110 million). Consumer sales at liquor stores almost doubled – jumping from more than $35 million per month prior to March to more than $65 million per month by June.

•Access to health care: In April, nearly 6 in 10 Oregonians delayed or did not receive medical care for at least 4 weeks. By October, that number had dropped to 4 in 10, but that’s still and indication of major barriers to care and that number is likely to rise again as hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients.

•Economic stability: We also pulled data from 211info, which is a nonprofit call center that provides people with referrals for basic needs programs.

Compared to last year, the number of calls asking for help has nearly doubled and it spiked from about 14,000 monthly contacts to more than 25,000 contacts between February 2020 and March 2020.

Housing is a major concern. Requests for help with housing problems have more than doubled, rising from about 4,000 calls per month in February to nearly 9,000 calls in August.

Requests for help with food insecurity, utility assistance and other issues also rose. Between February and August, calls seeking help with food nearly tripled (from 1,000 calls per month to 3,000 calls).

Some people may hear these data as proof points for why we should abandon any collective responsibility to protect each other, even if it means temporarily curtailing some normal activities, or re-thinking cherished traditions, like a large Thanksgiving dinner.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The hard reality is this:

•There is no normal while the virus rages unchecked and the touchpoints of daily life – going shopping, having dinner out with your friends, working out – could make you sick.

•There is no healthy economy while COVID-19 circulates widely in public places. A large majority of Oregonians are very or somewhat worried about catching COVID-19. Even before the freeze, most Oregonians reported having cut back on eating out and other public activities. A healthy community is necessary for a healthy economy.  You can’t have a fully functional economy while people are reluctant to be around each other

•There is no choice but to contain COVID-19 through common sense, science-based measures like the ones Governor Brown and Dr. Sidelinger described.

•The framework we’ve announced today strikes the necessary balance between precautions and pragmatism:

•It recognizes that social, emotional and material health are intertwined with physical health.

•It calibrates the protective measures we need to put in place in each county based on local risks. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

•It gives communities control of their own destiny. It provides more flexibility when counties succeed in working together to drive down infection rates in their own communities.

One last point: These protections are not forever. In December, Oregon expects to begin receiving limited shipments of the first COVID-19 vaccine. While we’re still awaiting federal Emergency Use Authorization, these vaccines appear to be safe and effective.

That’s good news. If we all get vaccinated, we can put an end to this pandemic.

We will prioritize the first doses for front-line health care workers. Then, as we receive more shipments, we will expand eligibility to vulnerable populations like nursing home residents, people with developmental disabilities, essential workers and then to the wider population.

In Oregon, health experts won’t make decisions about who gets the vaccine first on our own. We will consult a diverse range of voices. We will look at these questions through an equity lens. We will seek out and listen to leaders from communities that have been hardest-hit by COVID-19, and also have the greatest distrust of the health care system after generations of health inequity, including systemic racism and even shameful experimentation.

While the arrival of vaccines puts the end of COVID-19 in sight, it also reminds us that the decisions we make today are urgent and unavoidable.

Every COVID-19 death is preventable. Let’s not lose any more lives, especially now as vaccines become a reality, not a hope. We know simple steps work to stop the virus from spreading: wear a mask, keep social gatherings small and limit the number of people you see from other households.

Thank you and I’ll turn this back over to Governor Brown.