Reopening Oregon will 'take longer than we want'

Gov. Kate Brown

With COVID-19 infection rates rising rapidly in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday that at least 21 counties will stay in a modified version of the two-week "freeze" through most of December.

The limits on gatherings, businesses and services put in place Nov. 18 by executive order were set to end on Dec. in all but Multnomah County, including Portland.

Instead, Brown announced a new four-level risk assessment plan will be put in place after the current freeze ends.

Most of the most populous counties in the state will be in the "Extreme Risk" categories with the most stringent restrictions.

Each county will be rated and told what is allowed and what is barred for the next two weeks. The status will be reviewed by the Oregon Health Department and counties can move on or off the list. Counties will move incrementally, which means a county on the "Extreme Risk" list would go through two-week periods at "High Risk," "Moderate Risk" and "Low Risk."

"My goal here is to protect Oregonians across the state," Brown said. "A one size fits all approach does not make sense to me going forward."

The order came amid a spike in cases as more Oregonians planned travel during the Thanksgiving and upcoming Christmas holidays. The state reported 1,189 new cases and 20 deaths Wednesday. It was the eighth straight day with over 1,000 new cases. The state has had 68,503 cases and 867 deaths since the virus was first reported in the state at the very end of February, the Oregon Health Authority reported Wednesday.

Adding to concerns are the winter holidays. The Transportation Security Administration reported over three million people passing through airport security over the past weekend, the most since March. Canada celebrates Thanksgiving in mid-October and despite similar warnings about traveling, saw a doubling of daily cases by the first week of November. 

The number of travelers during the upcoming holidays is expected to be much smaller than last year, before the pandemic.

In November 2019, more than 55 million Americans traveled more than 50 miles during the Thanksgiving weekend, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That was less than half of the 115 million people who traveled during the Christmas and New Year's season last year.

While the total numbers are expected to be down, a doubling of travelers at Christmas would be troubling. Thanksgiving trips average three days between two points. The average Christmas trip is six days with multiple stops.

The increase of COVID-19 cases in Oregon reflects a worldwide rise in infections. In the U.S., 12.6 million have been infected and over 260,000 have died, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Worldwide, 60 million have become infected and 1.4 million have died. 

Though the United States accounts for only 4 percent of the world's population, it has 21 percent of COVID-19 cases worldwide and 18% of all deaths. 

Three major pharmaceutical companies have announced they could have a vaccine approved for use by the end of the year. Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca say that with federal approval, they could begin shipping the first doses immediately.

The initial batches in the low millions would go to states based on their population and used on front-line health care workers who are the most likely to either be exposed to the virus or carry the virus into a facility with older and at-risk patients.

Eleven countries have reported over one million cases: United States (12.6 million), India (9.6 million), Brazil (6.1 million), France (2.2 million), Russia (2.15 million), Spain (1.6 million) and the United Kingdom (1.55 million), Argentina (1.28 million), Colombia (1.26 million) and Mexico (1.06 million).

Nations reporting over 100,000 deaths are United States (260,591), Brazil (170,115), India (134,699) and Mexico (102,739). 

The Institute for Health Metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle projects that at current rates, Oregon could top 3,100 cases per day by Jan. 1 and 6,300 cases by Feb. 1.

Brown's two-week freeze order was followed by statements from some county sheriffs that they would not enforce the rules. Several local government leaders, particularly in southern and eastern Oregon, voted to either condemn or ignore the rules.

The Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association sought a restraining order in federal court against the freeze. U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut rejected the request, saying that while she recognizes "the heavy burden" Brown's order placed on the association's members, "those burdens are outweighed by the benefits to all Oregonians."

The governors of Oregon, California and Washington issued a joint statement late last week that anyone traveling into their states should self-quarantine for two weeks.

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday urged Americans not to travel to Mexico, which has reported over 1 million cases and has seen a rise in infection rates.


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