SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – Citing “shocking,” record numbers of Oregon COVID-19 cases fueled by the far more contagious delta variant, Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials used the latest statistics Wednesday to make the case that only more vaccinated Oregonians – and following indoor mask mandates -- can ease hospitals’ crisis and avoid a return to more severe rules.
The latest state numbers show 90% of ICU beds are filled, with some regions having as few as five open ICU beds to start the day, Brown said.
“The harsh reality is, delta is a different virus,” the governor said. “It has changed everything.”
And that, she said, is why masks will be required in all indoor public settings starting Friday.
What constitutes "indoor public settings"? The Oregon Health Authority will be issuing more guidance in coming days, an aide to the governor told NewsChannel 21. "In the meantime, common shared spaces in workplaces and other settings are included," the aide said.
The governor announced Tuesday vaccination requirements for state Executive Branch workers on or before Oct. 18, or six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whichever is later.
“The science is clear, that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals are able to spread the delta variant,” Brown said Wednesday. “Masks are simple, and they are effective. Wearing a mask should give you the confidence that you are not infecting others,” while also offering the “best bet at keeping schools and businesses open.”
“I know Oregonians are tired of wearing masks – I am too,” she said. But wearing one can mean one more child being protected, Brown said, and “could keep a best friend or loved one out of the hospital. … Let’s show our front-line workers that while they are saving lives, we are willing to do something simple, like put a mask on.”
“Until more people get vaccinated, we are all in danger,” Brown said.
Brown noted the latest OHA modeling shows if current case trends continue, Oregon hospital beds could be short 500 critical-care beds next month – but if 80% of Oregonians comply with the mask requirement, that is likely to cut the number of additional hospital beds needed by half, to about 250.
“Unvaccinated Oregonians are the majority of patients in the ICU, and the overwhelming majority of COVID deaths right now,” Brown said. “Trust that the vaccines are the best way to keep you out of the hospital.”
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, said the state is in a “dire stage,” as the “unrelenting delta variant is sweeping through our communities.
“The data reaffirms what science has long supported,” Sidelinger said, that “vaccines are preventing serious disease, and they are saving lives.”
But for now, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said the variant is “spreading uncontrollably through the unvaccinated” population, and sending more young people to the hospital.
“Because the delta variant makes one sicker, on average, they are having to stay in the hospital longer,” Allen said.
Steps being taken, Allen said, include mobilizing “nurse crisis teams” and working with the state Department of Human Services and long-term care facilities to move people who can be placed there, to free up hospital beds. Funding issues also are being addressed, such as streamlining the Medicare coverage process.
There were a few good statistics to share, such as Oregon ranking 12th in the country for fully vaccinated residents, and a 44% increase in daily vaccination counts over the past two weeks, as the delta variant sparked new concerns.
“Haven’t found time to get the shot?” Allen asked. “Get vaccinated, before the delta variant finds you!”
During media questioning about her past actions, the governor said, “Did we reopen too soon? No. Delta changed everything. This variant is three times more contagious, more severe, and is spreading, particularly through our vulnerable populations, very rapidly.”
And Brown said her path was set after meeting with county commissioners and learning that “for the most part, elected officials were not willing to make the tough decisions” – such as mask mandates – to ensure local hospitals had adequate staffing and needed room for urgent care.
Asked at what point there could be mandates for proof of vaccination, the governor said, “We know this variant makes its own timeline,” citing the projection of cutting needed hospital beds in half if 80% of Oregonians follow the mask mandates.
As for whether schools should require educators to get vaccinated, Brown said she had acted regarding the state workers she has authority to make such decisions about.
“Local superintendents need to make that decision, that is in their very capable hands,” Brown said.
Asked about events that have not been curbed and what will happen with the Pendleton Round-Up or Ducks football, Brown said, “I would encourage public and private employers to take action,” as well as “local authorities … to prevent vulnerable community members.”
“At this point, I am asking Oregonians to mask up,” Brown said. “We will again re-evaluate every couple of weeks.”
Asked about capacity requirements, Brown stuck to the steps taken and the calls for Oregonians to again step up as they have earlier in the pandemic: “We need to put this virus to bed.”
Here's the governor's news release:
Governor Kate Brown Announces Statewide Indoor Mask Requirements
Urges Oregonians to get vaccinated, wear masks to help stop spread of the Delta variant
Encourages Oregonians to make a plan for extreme heat, sign up for ORAlert.gov
(Salem, OR) — Governor Kate Brown held a press conference today to provide an update on the status of COVID-19 in Oregon and to announce new statewide indoor mask requirements. To help stop the highly contagious Delta variant from spreading further, masks will be required in all indoor public settings, effective Friday, August 13. The Governor was joined by Patrick Allen, Director of the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), and Dr. Dean Sidelinger, State Epidemiologist.
“Because of the Delta variant, yesterday we had over 2,300 COVID-19 cases reported––the highest number since the virus first landed in Oregon—and hospitalizations are also at a record high,” said Governor Brown. “New modeling from OHA and Oregon Health & Science University project that, without new safety interventions, COVID-19 hospitalizations will completely overwhelm our doctors and nurses in the coming weeks. When hospitals run out of beds, we are all at risk.
“We continue to work to reach Oregonians with information and a vaccine, but it’s clear the current situation requires immediate action to stop the Delta variant from spreading further. That’s why, moving forward for the immediate future, masks will be required in all indoor public settings.
“The latest science is clear that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals are able to spread the Delta variant. Masks are simple, and they are effective. Wearing a mask should give you confidence that you are not infecting others, and they are also our best bet at keeping our schools and our businesses open.”
The Governor also reminded Oregonians to treat forecast high temperatures seriously. She urged Oregonians without air conditioning to make a plan now to find a cooling center in their area by connecting with 211. She is also encouraging Oregonians to sign up to receive emergency notifications by visiting ORAlert.gov. And with high temperatures intensifying wildfire conditions, she is urging everyone to do their part to prevent fires at a time when most of the state is under extreme fire danger.
- Cooling Centers (211)
- Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses
- Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illnesses
Additional Materials from Today's Press Conference
- Oregon Indoor Mask Requirement Fact Sheet
- A recording of today's press conference — with an American Sign Language simulcast — is available on YouTube. Please note the video starts at the 11:55 mark.
- A copy of the Governor's prepared remarks is available here.
The reaction, as one might expect, was not all supportive, as in this news release from Oregon Senate Republicans:
Senate Republican Leader Blasts Governor's New Mandates
SALEM, Ore. – Just weeks after giving Oregonians their freedom back, Governor Brown has been on a tear, issuing new mandate after new mandate.
Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod (R-Lyons) issued the following statement about the Governor’s most recent mask and vaccine mandates:
“The Governor has a serious credibility problem. She obviously has no clear standards for any decision she makes. Instead, these mandates seem to be driven by left-wing activists who want a permanent pandemic to push forward unpopular policies. When asked in her press conference about when she would drop the mask mandate, she totally evaded the question.
“Forcing vaccinations on anybody is a total violation of Oregonians' individual rights. It won’t lead to a large uptick in vaccination, but instead segregate society by medical status.
“If the state wants to mandate vaccines for Oregonians, the state must take legal and financial liability. Right now, no one – not the insurers, not the drug companies, not the government, no one – takes responsibility when things go wrong when someone receives a vaccine. We know that in rare circumstances, blood clots and other conditions result from the COVID-19 vaccine. If Democrats want to mandate vaccines, they must take financial responsibility and liability for the consequences.”
News release from the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association:
Statewide Mask Mandate Must Prevent More Business Restrictions
Oregonians have had a choice for months and the choice is clear – get vaccinated
Statement from President & CEO Jason Brandt:
We can’t overstate how exhausted the hospitality industry is from an unthinkable health crisis spanning 18 months and counting. A new statewide mask mandate taking effect in 2 days must not lead to any other statewide business regulations. The industry is nowhere near recovery and has a long road ahead after all statewide restrictions were officially lifted 42 days ago. ORLA will work directly with Oregon OSHA and will advocate for a focus on ensuring appropriate signage is in place at businesses in addition to their oversight role for employee safety.
For more information on the efforts of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association please visit OregonRLA.org.