Governor defends Extreme Risk move: 'I chose to save lives'
SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – As 15 Oregon counties moved back to “Extreme Risk” COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials said the latest modeling shows that this round of severe business limits should end in about three weeks, thanks to increased number of vaccinated Oregonians.
Oregon has had the nation’s fastest-growing rise in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks as “cases are widespread, driven by new, more contagious variants,” Brown said, after five straight weeks of case increases of 20 percent or more and a near-doubling of hospitalizations in just a week.
“While fewer seniors are being hospitalized, thanks to vaccinations, COVID-19 is now knocking more younger people off their feet,” the governor said.
“There is some good news,” she added, as the same modeling that warned of more deaths and hospitalizations without moving to Extreme Risk in many counties also shows that “over the next two to three weeks, based on current vaccination rates, we can get ahead of these variants.”
“Vaccines are the key to moving us out of Extreme Risk,” Brown said. “We can reopen our economy and return to post-pandemic life in June, but it will take every one of us” to get there.
Half of Oregon adults have had at least one vaccine dose, she said, with an average of 35,000 vaccinations a day.
“We are not out of the woods just yet,” she said, but “there are better days on the horizon.”
Dr. Peter Graven, lead data scientist at OHSU, said, “If we can follow a short pause in activities, being indoors without masks in close proximity to those outside of our household,” the modeling shows the surge will be slowed and halted, preventing 176 deaths and 700 hospitalizations.
Mariana Robins, 15, a sophomore at Portland's Edison High School, also spoke at the virtual news conference, a so-called COVID “long-hauler” who has had months of lingering symptoms that ranged from memory loss and dizziness to daily migraines and pain throughout her body.
“To me, the worst and scariest symptom was passing out without warning,” she said. "This caused me to scared to even walk around my house." Even now, she said, it remains harder to remember and learn. The once-avid reader said she “now can’t read a simple paragraph without getting tired and frustrated.” She strongly urged others to get the vaccine.
The governor was asked by a reporter about the letter from dozens of county officials and the state restaurant industry and why decisions can’t be turned over to local officials. Brown said, “COVID is surging … Why a statewide approach? It’s about hospitalizations and health care capacity.”
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, said what’s being seen now is similar to last fall, with an increase in cases statewide from multiple sources, from bars and restaurants to workplace outbreaks – and “about half not able to be traced to any known source because it’s so widespread.”
Asked about Bend protesters at a high school clinic who shouted at arriving students and vaccinators, some even calling them Nazis, Brown said, “While I’m governor, and hopefully in the future, we will continue to rely on science and the data in making public health decisions.”
Asked why it took weeks of rising cases and hospitalizations to impose new restrictions, the governor repeated a past comment, that its "always a balance between lives and livelihoods." But now, with faster-spreading variants fueling cases amid increasing vaccination efforts, "It's more challenging for Oregonians to understand why safety protocols need to be in place."
Gov. Brown's office news release:
Governor Kate Brown Provides Updates on COVID-19 in Oregon
With cases surging, Governor urges Oregonians to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated
(Salem, OR) — Governor Kate Brown held a press conference today to provide an update on the status of COVID-19 in Oregon. The Governor was joined by Dr. Peter Graven, Lead Data Scientist, Oregon Health & Science University; Mariana Robins, a 15-year old with long-haul COVID-19 symptoms; Dr. Dean Sidelinger, State Epidemiologist, Oregon Health Authority (OHA); and Dana Hargunani, Chief Medical Officer, OHA.
"As we are facing widespread cases, driven by new, more contagious variants, I was presented with data showing two paths Oregon could take: One in which we took no additional action and stood by while more people die from this disease, and another that required a temporary tightening of restrictions for certain counties but could save hundreds of lives and prevent as many as 450 hospitalizations over the next three weeks. As your Governor, I chose to save lives," said Governor Brown.
"There is some good news. The same scientific modeling also shows that over the course of the next two-to-three weeks, based on current vaccination rates, we can get ahead of these variants. Following that trajectory, we should be able to lift restrictions statewide and return to a sense of normalcy no later than the end of June.
"We are asking for your help today. We know vaccinations are the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones, and they are the key to fully reopening our economy and moving forward to post-pandemic life. But it will take each and everyone one of us to do our part to get there. If you haven't been vaccinated, please do so now — there are many available appointments statewide."
- A copy of the Governor's prepared remarks from today's press conference is available here.
- A copy of a Governor's letter being sent to Extreme Risk counties and other stakeholders is available here.
- More information on vaccines is available at covidvaccine.oregon.gov.
- Data and analysis from OHSU is available on their website under the section titled "OHSU COVID-19 forecast."
- OHSU's COVID forecast for April 30, 2021 is available here.