Big summer gatherings -- fairs, concerts -- can't happen as usual
PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials tried to sound an upbeat tone Thursday as they spelled out a measured plan to start reopening businesses and other activities in most Oregon counties, as soon as a week from Friday.
But despite the state's success in curbing the spread of COVID-19 and “flattening the curve,” it was also clear there’s some sizable risk involved in the reopening plans. It won’t be business as usual – far from it -- and many traditional summer and even fall events either won’t happen or will be sharply curtailed or revised.
“We’ve joined the rest of the world in facing this historic pandemic head-on,” Brown said, “taking extraordinary measures to save lives.”
And it’s worked, officials said, with the lowest COVID-19 hospitalizations on record reported last week, fewer than 100 across the state.
Supplies of personal protective equipment are improving, Brown said, amid rapid ramping up of testing and contact tracing. And while everyone present thanked Oregonians for their sacrifices, they couldn’t say it will all be over any time soon.
“Let me be clear, these choices are not easy,” Brown said, noting that cases may increase again as reopenings begin, even if most Oregonians continue do as requested in terms of physical distancing, wearing masks or face covering in public and frequent hand-washing.
“This virus is still very dangerous, and it still poses a great threat,” the governor said. “Until there’s a vaccine, unfortunately, we will not be able to go back to life as we knew it, in Oregon or, frankly, anywhere.”
Thanks to health care professionals and the actions of millions of Oregonians, Brown said, Oregon has been “a comparatively safe harbor during this pandemic.” But she said despite that, the measures that have been taken “will remain a part of our lives for many months to come.”
Each county has been drafting plans to meet a detailed set of prerequisites, working with the Oregon Health Authority, and they will be able to apply starting Friday to be part of a Phase 1 opening plan as soon as a week later, May 15.
Once they get the go-ahead to reopen, restaurants and bars can open for dining in, but only with adequate physical distancing, workers in face coverings and urging customers to do as well, though obviously “not while eating,” Brown said. Salons, barber shops, gyms and the like also can reopen in a limited way, and salons, for example, will need to track customers for contact tracing.
Local gatherings can increase to up to 25 people, while stores use one-way flow and tape marking to delineate proper distancing.
The counties that enter Phase 1 will need to meet the criteria for 21 days before they consider moving into the next phase, “so we can monitor if there’s an unsafe uptick in the virus,” the governor said. If things remain safe, without an increase in cases or hospital admissions, they may be able to move into Phase 2, which still has details being finalized but is expected to allow somewhat larger gatherings and more work in office settings.
But then came the “difficult news” that large gatherings such as concerts, festivals and conventions are out for this summer. “Until we have a reliable prevention, like a vaccine, any large gathering through September should be canceled or significantly modified,” the governor said.
“I know this is really, really hard,” she said. “I, too, will miss visiting our fairs and festivals this year.”
Brown said along with strong recommendations on face coverings – she showed off hers, with a state seal on one side and a fir tree on the other, saying they weren’t wearing them at the news conference so as not to be muffled – there will be additional lifting of some statewide restrictions next week, including expanded child care options and guidance for summer schools, camps and youth programs.
“Public health experts tell us under the right restrictions, we can take this step safely,” she said. The governor said it’s a priority, because “child care is essential to get parents back to work, and because education is the bedrock of our society.”
“As this process of reopening begins, I ask Oregonians to come together and be smart,” she said. “Please follow the guidelines allowing businesses to reopen … in a safe and strong way.”
OHA Director Patrick Allen said Oregon has at last report 56.2 infections per 100,000 residents, the fourth-lowest in the nation, and its death rate is the eighth-lowest in the country. Hospitals now have enough ventilators and bed space to handle surge in cases, if necessary.
But all that doesn’t mean COVID-19 has gone away, he said. “We’re not in the clear, in the country or in our state. COVD infections could spike quickly, if we aren’t careful – all of us.”
Guidelines have been issued not just for restaurants and personal care businesses, but for all employers and the general public. Outdoor recreation agencies, for example, are being advised to keep high-traffic areas such as pools, basketball courts and playgrounds closed.
“We are not returning to business as usual,” Allen said. “We are venturing into uncharted territory, (working at) safely reopening businesses in the midst of a pandemic.”
Allen said that based on the information so far, “It’s safe to assume that a majority of Oregon counties meet the metrics to be able to safely reopen.”
Dr. Renee Edwards, chief medical officer at OHSU and a member of the governor’s Medical Advisory Panel, noted that hospital ER visits are down sharply for all conditions and stressed that “seeking health care at this time is safe,” without any needed concern of contracting COVID-19. “Know that it is safe. We are there for you,” she said.
During questioning from reporters, Brown said fairs, for example, could still do some of their events, just differently to assure physical distancing and other steps, with fewer people.
As for school in the fall, the governor said, “It is a priority for me to get students back in school in the fall. It probably will look a little different than it has.”
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, said a planned 10 p.m. curfew for bars reflects that even with the changes, some people who don’t track how much they are drinking may also lose track of how close they are to others.
Asked about not requiring, only urging the public to wear masks, Brown said, “We’re asking Oregonians to be thoughtful and considerate of their neighbors.”
Sidelinger said taking the temperature of customers is not being required but they don’t believe it would significantly cut down on the spread of the disease, while Edwards noted that only about half of those who have COVID-19 have been found to have a fever.
The governor punted to Sidelinger on the question of high school or college football. He said no-contact sports like golf or tennis “probably will be able to come back first,” but for others that have close contact, such as football and basketball, much will depend on the disease’s behavior.
“Large gatherings likely will not be happening through the end of September,” he said, so they “likely would resume without fans in the stands, but watching safely from home.”
News release from Gov. Kate Brown's office:
Governor Kate Brown Releases Plan for Rebuilding a Safe and Strong Oregon
Phased approach for counties and businesses emphasizes data, safety, and physical distancing
(Portland, OR) — Governor Kate Brown today announced new details of her framework for rebuilding a safe and strong Oregon, including new guidance for counties and businesses on the phased reopening process. The guidance is the product of a robust engagement process with stakeholders, doctors, health experts, business owners, and local officials to chart a path forward while keeping Oregonians healthy and safe.
“Today, thanks to millions of Oregonians following the strict physical distancing orders I put in place, I am happy to say these sacrifices have prevented as many as 70,000 COVID-19 infections, and 1,500 hospitalizations in Oregon,” said Governor Brown. “We are on track in meeting the goals that doctors and public health experts have laid out for us. And that means we now have the opportunity to begin rebuilding a safe and strong Oregon.”
By following the Governor's strict physical distancing guidelines over the past several weeks, Oregonians have successfully flattened the curve of COVID-19 cases. There are now fewer than 100 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state, and Oregon has established plans for increasing testing capacity, expanding contact tracing capability, and building reserves of personal protective equipment.
Governor Brown emphasized that by taking steps gradually and carefully, and following science and data, Oregon can begin to reopen safely.
"But let me be very clear: these choices are not easy; as we reopen parts of our economy, we know and expect that there may be an uptick in new coronavirus cases," said Governor Brown. "That’s why we have to be prepared in every single corner of the state, because as we’ve seen, an outbreak can occur anywhere."
On May 1, Governor Brown lifted her order delaying non-urgent medical procedures, with safeguards in place for health care workers and patients. On May 5, Governor Brown announced the limited reopening of some outdoor parks and recreation areas. Next week, updated safety guidelines regarding transit, certain child care, summer school, and summer camps and youth programs will be issued. Each step of reopening is contingent on Oregonians following the safety guidelines for each sector.
Governor Brown’s new guidance on reopening calls for the widespread use of face coverings, maintaining physical distance of six feet between individuals as much as possible, and following good hygiene and disinfection practices.
Phase I Details
In addition, some counties will be eligible to begin the limited reopening of additional business sectors beginning as early as May 15 if they have demonstrated they have met all prerequisites for reopening. Oregon counties can begin submitting applications on Friday, May 8. Counties must:
- Show a decline in COVID-19 or have fewer than 5 hospitalizations
- Have sufficient COVID-19 testing and contact tracing capability
- Establish plans for the isolation and quarantine of new cases
- Have the hospital capacity to handle any surge in COVID-19 cases
- Have enough personal protective equipment for health care workers
Counties that meet all of the above criteria will be eligible to enter Phase I of reopening on May 15, pending approval of their application by the Governor after recommendations from the Oregon Health Authority.
In Phase I, counties can begin the limited reopening of the following sectors under specific safety guidelines:
- Restaurants and bars for sit-down service
- Personal care and services businesses, including barbers and salons
- In-person gatherings of up to 25 people
Counties must remain in Phase I for at least 21 days before becoming eligible to advance to Phase II. If counties begin to see significant increases in COVID-19 cases or community spread, the Oregon Health Authority will work with local public health officials to evaluate what actions should be taken. Significant growth in COVID-19 spread could necessitate a county moving back from Phase I to a stay-home status. More details on Phases II and III are forthcoming.
The Governor also announced that large gatherings such as conventions, festivals, and major concerts and live audience sporting events will need to be cancelled at least through September. Restarting events of this size will require a reliable treatment or prevention, like a vaccine, which is many months off. Further guidance on large events will be provided in the coming months.
A full media kit is available under the Reopening Oregon Documents tab on the Oregon Health Authority’s website with more information. Documents include prerequisites for counties to apply for reopening, sector-specific guidance for employers and businesses, and a presentation on Oregon’s phased approach to reopening safely.
A full copy of Governor Brown’s remarks is available here.
Video of Governor Brown’s press availability is available here.
A video presentation explaining the phased reopening process is available here.