Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will lift the toughest business restrictions on nearly half the state’s counties — and all its biggest cities — by Friday, just a week after the tighter rules took effect in an effort to beat back a fourth surge of COVID-19.
A full list of updated county risk levels, just released by the state, is available here.
The announcement will allow restaurants in Portland, Gresham, Salem, Eugene, Bend and Medford to restart in person dining service at 25% capacity or a maximum of 50 people, whichever is lower.
It also allows for increased capacity limits in gyms, movie theaters, and museums, in theory allowing many to reopen.
The decision hinged on improvement in a single metric: slowing growth in the weekly cumulative total of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
OHA calculated the weekly percent increase in hospitalizations at 14.9%. That’s just one tenth of a percent below the 15% threshold, which is one of two statewide criteria the governor set to trigger “extreme risk” restrictions in counties where COVID-19 is widespread.
Oregon still meets the second criteria — more than 300 hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in a single day in the past week. The peak number of patients hospitalized was 351 last week, up from a high of 326 the week before.
Under the rules Brown has established, counties can reopen if just one of the hospitalization metrics drops to acceptable levels.
“Let me be clear: across the state, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are still high, and Oregon is not out of the woods yet,” Brown said in a written statement. “With our statewide hospitalization rate stabilizing, our hospitals should have the capacity to continue treating patients with severe cases of COVID-19 and other serious medical conditions in the coming weeks.”
Hospitalizations tend to be a lagging indicator of the spread of COVID-19. While those numbers are continuing to rise, another indicator of COVID-19 spread — the seven-day average of new cases — has declined for the past six days, according to CDC data.
The governor has said the pace of vaccination should allow her to lift restrictions statewide and return to “a sense of normalcy” by the end of June.
Just one month ago, the governor sought to avoid more business shutdowns. She required that statewide hospital capacity had to be at risk before any county could be considered extreme risk. That condition — including 300 hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients statewide — was met a short time later.
This week’s risk level changes take effect Friday. The next assignment of risk levels should be announced May 11, to take effect May 14.