School Closures 'Will Not Stop The Spread Of COVID-19,' Brown Warns

By Meerah Powell (OPB) and Conrad Wilson (OPB)
March 13, 2020 2 p.m.

UPDATE (March 13, 5:46 p.m. PT) - Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced late Thursday night the closure of all Oregon K-12 schools starting Monday and lasting through the end of March.

The news came after the Oregon Health Authority reported six new cases of COVID-19 Thursday night, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 30 across 11 counties. Across the river, Clark County, Washington, officials reported their first two cases Friday.


The six new cases in Oregon are all residents of Oregon Veterans’ Home in Lebanon, where two people were initially diagnosed with the virus Wednesday.

The COVID-19 virus, a relative of other viruses like SARS, was first identified in Wuhan, China, late last year.

Nearly 40 people have died in the U.S. from the virus. Most of those deaths have been in the Seattle area.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Friday the state doesn’t have the testing capacity or equipment it needs to fight the COVID-19 disease. And she was quick to blame the federal government for what she described as a slow response.

“We need more capacity,” Brown said, noting that there were five private labs the state has certified that are in the process of ordering materials.

Brown also criticized the current testing process as too intensive. She dismissed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a new, faster test from Roche.

“Honestly, it’s too little too late and it’s absolutely inadequate,” she said.

Brown also criticized the Trump administration for not doing enough to help the state. “Let me be really, really clear: We are not getting the equipment we need, and we are not getting the testing resources we need,” Brown said. “This coronavirus is exposing cracks, I’d say canyons in our federal healthcare system.”

Brown said there is capacity to test in the most urgent situations, like the veterans' home in Lebanon where there are now eight presumed cases.

Brown said a team was able to test every resident and staff member, some 375 people. “That is very different than what we need more broadly in the general population,” Brown said.

Brown said on March 3, she sent a letter requesting supplies and assistance to Vice President Mike Pence, who is running the federal government’s response to COVID-19. Brown said they spoke the next day and Pence assured her that “help was on the way.”

“We have been calling every single day since then,” Brown said. “On Tuesday, I called [Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar] and said, ‘we have not received a fricking response to our request.’”

In her letter to Pence, Brown asked for 400,000 N-95 respirator masks, gowns and gloves, Tyvek suits, Biocell Ambulance Protection Systems and 75 to 100 ventilators from the federal government’s strategic national stockpile.

On the call with reporters on Friday, Brown said she finally got a response to her request on Thursday for the equipment to keep healthcare workers safe.

“We are getting about 1/10 of that, we don’t even know when it’s coming,” she said. "The response has been extremely inadequate and absolutely unacceptable.”

Brown also spoke about her decision to close schools statewide through the end of the month because of growing concerns about COVID-19.

She said superintendents told her this week they didn’t want to close schools because of the critical role they play in supporting communities and vulnerable kids, many who get one, or even two meals per day at schools across the state.

She also said she was aware her decision increased the burden on families who are adjusting to a quickly changing situation.

Brown said some districts were getting to the point where they couldn’t operate with current staffing levels.

"It has become very clear that the demands of this crisis were quickly pushing our schools to their breaking point,” Brown said on a conference call. “We are left with little choice.”

Brown also spoke about the disruption and emotional toll closing schools takes on kids. “Every single one of our children is experiencing this crisis up close and personal,” Brown said.

Oregon Department of Education Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill said his agency was prepared to help school districts continue supporting kids who rely on school for food.

Oregon School Closures

"Schools are critical institutions that provide important services for all our students, but especially are most vulnerable, and during this crisis I have worked hard to ensure those critical services continue," Brown said in a statement Thursday night. "However, I have heard from superintendents, school board members, teachers, parents and students that it has now become impossible to functionally operate schools due to workforce issues and student absences."

Brown's announcement of statewide school closures, from Monday, March 16, through Tuesday, March 31, comes a day after her ban on public gatherings of more than 250 people. As of Friday morning, some schools districts had opted to close one day early, ahead of Monday's official closure.

Brown, with support from the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon’s Early Learning Division, has directed school districts to develop plans for returning to school that take into account the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.

Districts are required to develop plans to continue nutrition services for students during the school closures.

The Early Learning Division will “support child care programs and will work to identify resources to support child care needs for our most vulnerable families,” a statement from Brown’s office reads.

Oregon Education Association President John Larson said in a statement following Brown’s announcement that state elected officials must work to ensure Oregon’s students and teachers are protected during the school closures.

“It is essential the governor’s office release guidance instructing school districts to keep public school employees financially whole during the closing of schools,” Larson said in the statement. “Oregon’s students and educators should not have to bear the burden of a public health outbreak that is far beyond their control.”

No More Public Gatherings

Late Wednesday night, Brown had announced a ban of all public gatherings of more than 250 people for four weeks, effective immediately until April 8.

For workplaces, Brown recommended increasing physical space between employees in offices and limiting work-related travel and staggering work schedules.

“Coronavirus is in our community. We should be prepared for thousands of cases in Oregon,” Brown said at the briefing.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger with the Oregon Health Authority estimates there could currently be between 150 to 250 novel coronavirus cases in the state. He said without limiting social interactions, that number could reach up to 75,000 by mid-May.

Meanwhile, Oregon's medical professionals are concerned that hospitals in the state don't have sufficient resources to care for COVID-19 patients.

In a letter to Oregon Governor Kate Brown, more than 250 Oregon doctors told her they are being forced to make difficult decisions regarding patient care.

“We see ourselves making decisions in the next two weeks on who will live and who will die because we don’t have resources sufficient to care for them," the letter reads.
The doctors' concerns include a possible shortage of vacant hospital beds and ventilators needed to treat severe respiratory illnesses and not enough personal protective gear for hospital staff.

Lebanon Veterans’ Home

As of Friday morning there are eight presumptive positive cases of the COVID-19 virus at the Oregon Veterans’ Home in Lebanon.

All of the cases are men and most are age 75 or older. All diagnosed patients have been placed in isolation at the facility.

“Tonight our thoughts are with these veterans and their loved ones,” OHA Director Patrick Allen said in a statement Thursday night. “We are working closely with Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the facility’s staff and Linn County Public Health to ensure they get the best care and support possible.”

The Oregon Department of Human Services Wednesday issued guidance seeking to limit exposure to COVID-19 at long-term care facilities, including restricting visitation to only essential individuals, limiting essential visitors to two per resident at any given time and screening all permitted visitors for virus symptoms.

Elderly Couple in Separate Care Facilities Both Test Positive

An elderly couple in separate Southwest Washington facilities both tested positive for the COVID-19 disease Friday.

Clark County Public Health confirmed the couple – a man and a woman – are both in their 80s. They had regular contact but lived apart. They are both being treated at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.


County staff are in the process of identifying and quarantining people at the two locations.

One location is Van Mall Retirement, which is home to about 180 other people. Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick said the county is interviewing the center’s staff and residents to decide who needs to go into isolation.

“Our staff are working to identify close contacts, including staff and residents at Van Mall,” he said. “They will be notified, and they will be quarantined for 14 days and monitored by public health.”

Melnick said the other facility is too small to identify without risking patient confidentiality. But he said all the staff and residents there are being quarantined.

First-responders who transported the couple were “potentially exposed,” Melnick said, and they have been quarantined.

Melnick said the county will test anyone in quarantine for the novel coronavirus if they develop symptoms.

Washington Schools

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday that all public and private K-12 schools in Washington will close all schools in the state.

Schools will close from March 15 through April 24.

“We do not take these decisions lightly and I am fully aware of the various impacts this has on families and communities,” Inslee said during a Thursday press conference in Olympia. “Today’s decision has a full range of implications from learning plans and childcare, to free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch, just to name a few.”

He continued: “I anticipate this will cause ripple effects throughout our state. But we can’t afford not to do it. We must ensure that we slow the spread of the virus.”

Inslee also announced Wednesday his own state’s social distancing measures, banning large events in three Puget Sound-area counties.

More than 40 people have died in the U.S. from the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thirty-seven deaths have been reported in Washington as of Friday.

As of Friday there are 568 reported coronavirus cases in Washington, according to the Washington Department of Health.

Courts Cutting Back, Postponing Trials

Federal courts in Oregon are postponing all criminal and civil trials until after April 26 to slow the spread of COVID-19. That includes jury selection and grand juries.

The order signed Friday by Chief U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez noted there could be case by case exceptions. Federal courthouses in Portland, Eugene, Medford and Pendelton, as well as the clerk’s office, probation and pre-trialservices will remain open.

At the state level, Oregon’s Supreme Court Justice Martha Walters issued guidance, stressing non-time sensitive jury trials in state courts should be postponed, but said jury trials underway or that involve people held in jail should continue. Multnomah County courts also announced restrictions on many court proceedings into April.

Bend State of Emergency; Hospital Restrictions 

The City of Bend has declared a local state of emergency until at least April 15.

“The declaration allows more flexibility and authorization for the City Manager to take actions to help protect the health and safety of the community, through a number of means from limiting access to public places, to buying items or services related to health and safety without normal procurement procedures that can take additional time,” according to a press release from the city.

St. Charles Health System will further limit access and postpone elective procedures at its hospital and clinic facilities in Bend, Redmond, Madras and Prineville, starting March 14. Outside of a few exceptions, no visitors will be allowed “for the foreseeable future,” and no children under 12 will be allowed to visit at all.

Exceptions to the no visitor rule include allowing one visitor for patients in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU), obstetrics, those undergoing surgery, and those needing physical or mental assistance to access care.

"Patients who are at end of life may have one visitor at a time," said a March 13 press release. "Case-by-case exceptions will be considered by the unit's nurse manager based upon unusual circumstances." Elective procedures at St. Charles facilities are postponed until at least March 28."Patients who are impacted by this decision will be contacted by the health system or their physician with additional details. We will review and revisit this decision as the situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve." the release states.

With school locations around the state shuttering Monday, Bend-La Pine Schools will serve free "grab and go" meals for kids 18 and under at five locations throughout the district.

Members Of Oregon’s Congressional Delegation Request Federal Aid

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) joined with U.S. Democratic Oregon Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and Suzanne Bonamici in a letter to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence requesting aid for Oregon amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

The delegates requested hundreds of thousands of additional surgical masks and respirators as well as gowns, gloves and goggles.

“We appreciate your cooperation securing nearly $8 billion in emergency supplemental funding designed to get states the critical resources they need to respond to COVID-19,” the delegates wrote to Pence. “However, there are still many unmet needs and the situation continues to evolve.”

The delegates directed Pence to a letter sent by Brown earlier in the week that made similar requests.

Bill To Expand Coronavirus Testing

Oregon U.S. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, along with senators from four other states, introduced a bill this week that aims to expand free COVID-19 testing.

“Adequate testing for COVID-19 is a critical step to stem the tide of the pandemic,” Wyden said in a statement. “Beyond increasing the availability of the test, it needs to be free so Americans don’t have to choose between getting tested or putting food on the table for their loved ones.”

The Free COVID-19 Testing Act would waive cost-sharing for coronavirus testing for people enrolled in private health plans as well as other plans such as Medicare and Medicaid.

For uninsured people, the legislation would cover the cost of lab fees, and states would have the option to cover testing through their Medicaid programs.

The legislation is supported by more than 30 other Democratic U.S. senators.

Port Of Astoria Cancels Cruise Ship Visits

The Port of Astoria announced Thursday that it is canceling all oceangoing cruise ship visits through April 10.

“Additionally, in the absence of specific policy on cruise ships from higher authority, we have agreed to consider cruise ships as public gatherings and will cancel all visits of cruise ship visits with greater than 250 persons aboard as long as the state prohibitions remains [sic] in place,” the Port said in a statement.

Libraries, Parks Closing

Multnomah County leaders announced Friday evening that the county's 19 libraries will be closed for the foreseeable future. That's going to make life harder for at least two populations: People experiencing homelessness, many of whom use library branches as a place to stay warm, charge their phones and use the restroom, and parents working to figure out how to keep children entertained over the next few weeks.

Library officials say they will continue to offer free WiFi that can be accessed outside library buildings.

The Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries are closing at the end of business Saturday through at least Sunday, March 29. District leaders say they will be cleaning all locations during that break. They're extending loan periods for people with checked out material and adjusting holds. Digital resources are still available.

Meanwhile, the Portland Parks bureau announced it is closing all indoor recreation facilities, including community centers and pools, through at least March 31. Outdoor parks, playgrounds, golf courses trails and natural areas will remain open.

Portland Art Museum, OMSI, Oregon Historical Society Closed 

The list of cultural institutions closing due to coronavirus continued to grow Friday, and will likely jump more in coming days.

The Portland Art Museum and the Northwest Film Center will close effective Satuday and reopen April 1, though that date may change. All public programs, tours, school field trips and films at the downtown Portland museum are off until April 8.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry will also stay shut through the end of March. And the Oregon Historical Society has closed until at least March 30 and canceled all public programs through April 12. Research functions will also be paused during the virus outbreak.

Nike Employees Working From Home, Headquarters Remains Open

Nike said its World Headquarters in Beaverton will remain open, but that all U.S.-based Nike employees are encouraged to work from home starting Monday through the end of March, if their jobs allow.

“We will continue to monitor developments and make decisions that prioritize the safety of our teammates as necessary,” the company said in a statement.