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COVID-19 cases decline, but not enough for schools to reopen, Gov. Brown says

(Update: Adding videoMore from news conference)

If infection rate doesn't drop, schools might not reopen for months

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Coronavirus cases in Oregon have declined over the past month, but in order for schools to reopen, the average number of new cases a day needs to drop from 250 to 60, Gov. Kate Brown and state health experts said Friday.

In order to reach that goal, Brown said residents will have to continue to follow and enforce current statewide COVID-19 safety mandates -- or else bars and restaurants may have to close and travel restrictions will be implemented.

“The good news is we’re slowing the spread of COVID. The bad news is our infection rate is still too high for most in-person schools,” Brown said Friday. “With the course we’re on, meeting our goals is just going to take too long. We must do better, faster. We must work together. And we must do it now.”

Dean Sidelinger, the state’s epidemiologist, said that since July, transmission of the deadly virus has slowed. Hospitalizations also declined last week, from 143 to 115.

The percentage of positive tests has leveled off too — remaining at 5.4%.

“While our COVID-19 data shows we are doing better than many other states, the virus continues to be a significant threat in our communities, and we’re not close to keeping the infection rate at a level we’d need to reopen schools across Oregon,” Sidelinger said.

In June, Gov. Brown issued an executive order that allowed in-person learning at public and private K-12 schools only if it they met guidance issued by the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education.

One of the guidelines requires both a statewide and a county-wide testing positivity rate of 5% or less, as well as 10 or fewer new cases for every 100,000 people in the county where the school is located.

At the current case rate, Brown said schools would not be able to return for in-person learning until April.

In order to speed up the return of students to schools, Brown said residents will have to strictly follow current statewide mask mandates and gathering limitations.

If cases do not continue to decrease and “at a rapid rate,” Brown said she will have to consider closing bars and restaurants and implementing travel restrictions, which would include people traveling to Oregon from out of state quarantining for two weeks.

Brown said she has been reluctant to order more businesses to close because of the economic impact. More than 500,000 people in Oregon have filed unemployment claims since the start of the pandemic.

COVID-19 claimed two more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 414, the Oregon Health Authority reported Friday. Brown said only a drop in infection rates and other metrics can have the state's schools reopen in six weeks -- not seven months.

OHA also reported 259 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 as of 12:01 a.m. Friday, bringing the state total to 24,421.

The new cases are in the following counties: Benton (2), Clackamas (16), Columbia (1), Coos (1), Curry (1), Deschutes (2), Douglas (1), Hood River (2), Jackson (18), Jefferson (6), Klamath (2), Lane (4), Lincoln (6), Linn (3), Malheur (28), Marion (55), Morrow (3), Multnomah (38), Polk (8), Umatilla (17), Union (1), Wasco (1), Washington (25) and Yamhill (18).

As of Friday morning, St. Charles Health System reported four COVID-19 patients, none in the ICU or on ventilators.

Oregon’s 413th COVID-19 death is a 79-year-old man in Lane County who tested positive on July 24 and died on Aug. 19 at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center Riverbend. He had underlying conditions.

Oregon’s 414th COVID-19 death is a 96-year-old woman in Marion County who tested positive on Aug. 11 and died on Aug. 19 at Salem Hospital. She had underlying conditions.

At a news conference, the governor said that many critics have said her executive orders in recent months went too far, while others say she didn't go far enough and the economy needs to shut down to stop the virus spread

"Those commenting on the far ends of this debate are missing the point" she said. "This has always been a balancing act, a tightrope that stretches and weaves between the two extremes," she she tries to follow the data and science and "take action carefully and gingerly."

With a 5.4% positive test rate and an infection rate of 50 per 100,000 residents, Brown said it would take more than 200 days - a month longer than a typical school year - for Oregon schools to meet the reopening metrics that all districts are working to meet.

Oregon has one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the country, Brown said, but the infection rate of about 1 (meaning each person who tests positive leads to one more case) has to drop to at least .75 for the schools to safely reopen.

"Right now, we face a difficult choice," she said. "We have stabilized, (but) we need to get down to roughly 60 cases a day." Without that improvement, the governor said not only might schools not reopen, but she'll "need to add more restrictions" to reduce the spread.

COVID 19 modeling data shows improvement

OHA released its latest modeling update today. As with previous reports, it modeled three future scenarios with different assumptions about transmission levels. The models start Aug. 14 and project over the next month.

  • The first scenario showed that if transmission continues at its current rate, the estimated number of approximately 900 new daily infections would remain steady over the next 4 weeks. The number of new severe cases would continue at approximately 19 per day, by Sept. 10. The Re is – transmission rate – is projected to remain at 1.
  • In a scenario where transmission decreases by 10 percentage points and continues at that level over the next month, the estimated daily number of new infections and newly diagnosed cases would decrease. That model shows there would be 300 new infections daily and 11 new severe cases per day. That transmission rate is .75.
  • In a scenario where transmission increases by 10 percentage points and continues at that level over the next month, the estimated daily number of new infections and newly diagnosed cases would increase. That model projects 2,200 new daily infections and 29 new severe cases per day by Sept. 10. That transmission rate is 1.25.

Oregon State Public Health Laboratory secures supplies to process over 400,000 specimens to increase in-state testing capacity

Today, OHA announced that it had secured supplies to process more than 400,000 COVID-19 specimens via an agreement between the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory (OSPHL) and ThermoFisher.

The supplies will be distributed to certain qualifying laboratories, increasing Oregon’s overall COVID-19 testing capacity. The agreement will add capacity to process at least an additional 20,000 tests per week on average.

“This is an important step toward securing the COVID-19 testing capacity that our state needs,” said Patrick Allen, OHA director. “As we’ve said for months, without adequate testing, we cannot truly suppress the virus in our communities.”

The new agreement builds on one that OSPHL had in place with ThermoFisher and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May and June, under which OSPHL received and distributed supplies to process some 130,000 specimens.

OHSU, McKenzie Willamette Hospital and the Willamette Valley Toxicology Laboratory/OSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory participated in that program. The OSPHL will continue to distribute the kits to these three laboratories and will reach out to additional qualified laboratories to further expand testing capacity in Oregon.

Note: The following slides were cited in Governor Brown’s press conference today:

Stay informed about COVID-19:

Oregon response: The Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Office of Emergency Management lead the state response leads the state response.

United States response: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leads the U.S. response.

Global response: The World Health Organization guides the global response.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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