Governor calls for ‘pause’ for 10 counties due to COVID-19 spike

Last Friday (Nov. 6), Gov. Kate Brown announced a two-week “pause” on social activities in five Oregon counties — Multnomah, Marion, Jackson, Malheur and Umatilla counties — as part of a renewed push to slow record-breaking coronavirus spread, warning that more severe restrictions may be needed without progress. 

The decision was then expanded on Monday (Nov. 9) to include Washington, Clackamas, Linn, Baker and Union counties based on the most recent per capita case counts.

The pause — which applies to counties with more than 200 cases per 100,000 people over two weeks, or more than 60 cases over the same span for counties with fewer than 30,000 people — went into effect Wednesday and will continue through Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

“It would be great if the entire state ... took these directives seriously,” Brown said.

Among other things, the directive prohibits indoor visits at long-term care facilities; encourages working at home; sets new capacity limits at restaurants to 50 people, including customers and staff; limits capacity at gyms to 50 people; and recommends either not gathering with people outside your household or at least capping group sizes to six people. 

The only exception to the restrictions are churches and other places of worship.

Though Lane County and Douglas counties weren’t among the counties that have been experiencing a severe upswing in coronavirus cases at the time, a sharp rise in cases over the weekend in Lane County — 172 cases in three days — keeps it on the governor’s watch list and raises concerns with Lane County Public Health. 

By Monday, Lane County’s total number of coronavirus cases had risen to 2,884, a jump of 256 — more than 100 cases than last week’s record-high. 

Meanwhile, statewide there were 2,632 new cases as Oregon recorded a new one-day record total of 988 cases on Saturday, followed on Sunday by another 874 cases, with the cumulative number of coronavirus cases exceeding 50,000 with 50,448 cases.

Neighboring Douglas County has surpassed 500 cases, with 81 cases over the weekend. Douglas County Public Health also reported a jump to just short of 700 people in isolation and quarantine within the county. 

“Our new cases are due to a large number of people attending social events and not following COVID-19 guidelines for social distancing and wearing of face coverings while with others,” the DCPH said in a statement Tuesday. “These events include crowding in small rooms or in small areas to attend birthday parties, Halloween celebrations, weddings, baby showers, dinner parties, poker games, in-person meetings and other social gatherings. 

“Again, we ask our residents to step up and help us to control the spread of COVID-19 by choosing to not attend these events and to delay in-person parties, events and meetings until a later date.” 

Between noon Monday and noon Tuesday, Douglas County reported 20 new positive test results, bringing the total number of cases in Douglas County to 517, said county public health officer Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer.

Even with the latest metrics announced by Brown, the 97424 and 97426 ZIP codes reflect a similar trend to the larger Eugene-based numbers when compared to the number of residents along the coast. As of Wednesday, the Cottage Grove area reported a total of 83 cases, with 43 cases listed for the Creswell area.

Calling recent coronavirus spread unprecedented and extremely concerning, Brown pleaded with Oregonians during a news conference Friday afternoon to cancel social plans and urged them to consider this moment a wake-up call. Brown said she does not want to impose additional restrictions that will be financially devastating for businesses and workers. 

“I need all Oregonians to understand that additional closures may be imminent in two weeks if we don’t see reduced case counts,” she said. “My sincere hope is that we can work together to drive down the numbers before the Thanksgiving holiday.”

Brown’s announcement came during a week when Oregon recorded more coronavirus cases than at any point since the pandemic began. Although cases have been rising for two months, the urgency reached a new level as active hospitalizations reached an all-time high Friday.

Though Oregon is still recording fewer cases and deaths per capita than nearly any other state, state health officer and state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger warned that the significant jump in identified cases over the past week is very concerning, indicating it could eventually give way to “exponential” spread. 

The result could lead to too many Oregonians becoming ill, pushing hospitals toward capacity and unable to provide quality care.

“We’re in jeopardy of being at a place where we can’t do that for every Oregonian,” Sidelinger warned.

The latest hospital numbers released by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) alarmed officials. As of Monday, 217 Oregonians had been actively hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 infections, up 32 percent from the previous week.

“If we’d acted a week earlier, could we have impacted some of these cases? Potentially,” Sidelinger acknowledged. “But it’s a constant dance of trying to make sure we have the most effective measures that people will follow, and that we keep as our north star the ability to protect the health of Oregonians.”

Rachael Banks, director of public health for the Oregon Health Authority, stated she believes the pause will be effective in slowing spread — but only if Oregonians heed the guidance.

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