Alarmed by a dramatic and sustained uptick in new cases of COVID-19, Gov. Kate Brown on Friday announced strict regulations meant to decrease interactions among Oregonians.
The two-week “freeze” harkens back to many of the restrictions of the “stay home, save lives” order Brown issued in March. It will take effect on Wednesday, Nov. 18, and extend to at least Dec. 2.
Restrictions under the new framework apply statewide, not just in counties with acute coronavirus spread. And the new restrictions will be in place in some parts of Oregon for more than two weeks. Brown said Multnomah County will be under the new guidelines for at least four weeks, and other hot spots will also face longer restrictions.
“Maybe we thought the fight was over, but it’s not," said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist. "This is likely the most dangerous time in Oregon.”
New regulations include:
- Limiting restaurants and bars to take-out service only.
- Closing gyms and other indoor recreational facilities, museums, and indoor entertainment like theaters.
- Closing outdoor recreational facilities, zoos, gardens, and entertainment venues. City parks and playgrounds will remain open.
- Requiring all businesses to mandate that employees work from home when possible, and to close offices to the public.
- Limiting grocery and retail stores to 75% capacity and encouraging curbside pickup service.
- Prohibiting visits at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
- Limiting social get togethers, whether indoors or out, to no more than six people from two households.
- Limiting worship services to 25 people when indoors and 50 people when outdoors.
The increased regulations are the toughest steps Brown has taken since a series of executive orders in the early days of the pandemic, and could send many bars and restaurants that had reopened back into closures. But they also aren’t as widespread.
For instance, K-12 schools, sports and childcare services currently operating will see no meaningful change. Neither will higher education, or Division 1 athletics (think Ducks and Beavers football). Services such as hair salons, barber shops and massage services can all continue under their current operations. Brown said that’s because state experts haven’t seen clear ties between rising cases and those sorts of businesses if patrons and employees wear masks and social distance, and because many provide services that help Oregonians keep up their mental and physical health.
The Oregon Health Authority plans to issue specific guidance by sector in coming days.
While Brown’s new directive includes a lighter touch for some businesses than the last shutdown, the governor also promised Friday to take a hard line with individuals who ignore restrictions on social gatherings — a key reason for exponential case growth the state has seen. Brown said she’s directing Oregon State Police to work local law enforcement on potentially ticketing, or even arresting, people for breaking the rules.
“In terms of individuals, I am not asking you,” Brown said. “I am ordering you.”
The governor and state health experts are especially worried about Thanksgiving gatherings and urged Oregonians to accept that this holiday will be different.
Breaking a governor’s emergency order is a class C misdemeanor in Oregon. Businesses have long faced possible penalties for flouting regulations.
Despite looming warnings of a case surge in the fall, Oregon officials have shied away from once again shutting down portions of the state economy, but have also warned that it could be necessary if COVID-19 spread gets out of control.
Now, that’s happened. In recent days, the state has continually set records for new daily cases, notching a worrisome 1,122 new cases Thursday. That’s the first time new daily cases have eclipsed 1,000. Friday’s reported total is almost as high: 1,076, with seven additional deaths in Oregon. Forty two people died in Oregon last week, the highest total since the pandemic began. A record 11.9% of coronavirus tests last week came back positive.
The increase in cases is believed to be at least partly due to colder autumn weather, which is driving people indoors for small gatherings that would otherwise occur in the open air.
“What’s causing this spread?" Sidelinger said. “Two words: Social gatherings.”
That’s a point that was also pushed Friday by a coalition of state trade groups and chambers of commerce pushing back against more limits on businesses. In a letter bracing for new restrictions, the group called on Brown to delay new limits on business. Instead, the business groups suggested a robust public education campaign about private gatherings and increased testing and tracing of cases, among other potential steps that would not be as painful for business owners and their employees.
“Resorting to previously enacted restrictions and closures that ultimately punish businesses for spread that is outside of their control is not the right solution,” the letter said. “We implore you, Governor, if you are considering additional restrictions or actual closures, please take a pause.”
For health officials, public information campaigns have not seemed effective enough.
“We have no choice," Brown said. “I know this is really hard on our businesses, particularly our iconic small businesses .... But we have no choice. I’m asking everyone to take action now. I’m asking everyone to make a collective sacrifice."
Medical officials have warned that hospitals could fill up if the trend isn’t checked. Already, Oregon Health & Science University has enacted the first steps of its COVID-19 contingency plans, converting one of its intensive care units into a COVID-only space. Some hospitals have begun limiting elective procedures in order to keep resources available for a surge of coronavirus patients.
“When people become ill, we need to assure that there are enough hospital beds, PPE, and staff to prepare,” Brown said Tuesday at a media briefing. PPE is a reference to personal protective equipment such as gloves and face coverings. “This is very serious. Oregon is headed on the wrong road.”
Oregon has announced 753 deaths due to the coronavirus as of Friday, along with 54,937 known cases.
On Friday, Brown also joined the governors of Washington and California in announcing a joint “travel advisory.” While all three states are urging people to avoid unnecessary travel, they’re also asking that people who visit — or return home from another state — voluntarily self-quarantine for two weeks. State leaders also urged college students going home for winter break to limit their activities before leaving campus and to take extra precautions to protect family members once they do return.
“As hospitals across the West are stretched to capacity, we must take steps to ensure travelers are not bringing this disease home with them,” Brown said in a statement. “If you do not need to travel, you shouldn’t.”