Gov. Brown says variants played a part in recent surge of COVID cases, but vaccinations offer hope of reopening

By Alex Hasenstab (OPB)
May 13, 2021 1:24 a.m.

In a national interview, Brown said Oregon could relax restrictions as soon as next month.

Governor Kate Brown wears an orange traffic safety vest and a mask that has the words "Get covered 2021" printed on it.

Gov. Kate Brown tours a drive-thru mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Portland International Airport, April 9, 2021. The clinic is a joint operation hosted by Oregon Health & Science University, the Port of Portland and the American Red Cross.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/ OPB

Earlier this month, Oregon and Washington were hit with a fourth surge of cases and hospitalizations, prompting Gov. Kate Brown to announce an indoor dining shutdown as 15 counties went into the extreme risk category. In an interview Wednesday with NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Brown said variants of the virus were a likely cause of the surge.


“These variants were substantially more transmissible and unfortunately the impact of the variants more severe,” Brown said. “We saw case rates go from a couple of 100 cases a day to close 600, 800 in a very short time frame.”

Just one week later, the restrictions were relaxed allowing indoor dining again.

“Our hospitalizations have stabilized and our infection rates are dropping,” Brown said.

Things have taken a 180 since Brown first ordered the shutdown.


“A couple of weeks ago, the variants were winning,” Brown said. “Now what is really clear is that Oregonians are continuing to step up to get vaccines and we’re going to beat this back.”

Yesterday, Brown rolled out a plan to reopen the state in June if 70% of residents aged 16 and older have gotten at least one dose of vaccine. That would mean no more county risk levels and a lifting of most restrictions.

“Let me make it perfectly clear, 70 with one vaccine in their arms is not herd immunity,” Brown said. “But according to our professionals and medical experts, that is a level at which we can slow transmission of the virus, and we can ensure that we have adequate hospital bed capacity and healthcare workers to staff those beds.”

Brown announced that over two million eligible Oregonians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, approximately 60% of the state’s adult population. Residents 16 and older are able to get vaccines on a walk-in basis. With a daily average of around 34,000 vaccines a day, she’s confident that Oregon will reach that goal.

“People are really excited about reopening Oregon,” Brown said. “It’s been a really tough year. There’s no question about it.”

Brown said that social distancing and mask requirements will remain in place after reopening. She said she’s awaiting new guidance from the CDC before revising Oregon’s statewide mask mandate.

“You may know that throughout the entire pandemic Oregon had some of the lowest infection rates and some of the lowest mortality rates in the country,: Brown told NPR. “We have continued to follow science and data to preserve lives and to protect public health.”

On Tuesday, Oregon had 579 new cases for a total of over 192,000 cases since the pandemic started.