If irony were a precious metal, Oregon’s state government would be rich.
I was thinking about this as I sat in the drive-thru line at the coffee shop.
Drive-thru restaurants and curbside pickup now are appreciated for their public-health safety, instead of being derided as the pollution-producing havens of lazy motorists. The push for mass transit and carpooling is on hold. Instead, we’re told to avoid sustained contact with anyone not a member of our immediate household. Reusable shopping bags, which a few months ago were considered ecological saviors, are now banned by some stores for their potential to transport the coronavirus. Stores that run out of paper bags quietly are being permitted to use the banned single-use plastic bags.
Gov. Kate Brown and others criticize the federal government for not sending enough personal protective equipment to states. Yet Oregon’s own distribution of PPE also has been problematic. Some supplies wound up in the wrong places. Hospitals and businesses have been left to find equipment on their own.
Brown reiterates that science guides her decisions on whether to loosen or tighten COVID-related restrictions on businesses, gatherings and other aspects of society. But during a telephone press conference on Wednesday, reporters pointed out that some counties are not meeting the specific health benchmarks that she required for “reopening.”
Brown responded that state officials are watching “not one particular metric but a number of interrelated factors, including the rising increase in positivity (of COVID-19 test results), looking at hospital bed capacity and the amount of community spread. Those will all be taken into consideration as we move forward,” she said.
“Should cases continue to rise, should our hospital bed capacity become thin, then we will need to take more drastic action. I’m hoping that Oregonians will move forward with face coverings, and we can begin immediately slowing the transmission of the virus.”
During a telephone press conference Saturday, Brown had been asked why she had not mandated face coverings statewide instead of for only counties. She said she considered population density and infection rates and, “The metric I’m watching very, very closely is our hospital bed capacity and our health care worker capacity, and that’s something we’re watching very closely to make sure that we have adequate capacity across the state and the region.”
She also said: “All options are on the table. I would hope to avoid a wholesale shutdown of the economy. That’s not my preferred approach.”
Just two days later, Brown on Monday announced the statewide mandate. With some exceptions, individuals age 12 and older must wear face coverings in indoor public settings.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Brown said she could not remember when the Oregon Health Authority had recommended that step to her.
Dr. Renee Edwards, chief medical officer at Oregon Health & Science University, added that it takes two or three weeks before health officials see the effects of such changes in requirements.
In April, Edwards had told me that Oregon and the world must learn to exist with COVID-19 for some time.
“We have to get to a place where we relieve some of the restrictions such that our economy can function and we can all function as a society,” she said. “But we have to realize that when we relieve some of those restrictions, that’s going to result in some increasing spread of the infection, which is going to mean some people getting sick and even some people dying.
“So we’re going to have to get to a comfortable place as a society where we have kind of an acceptance of a certain amount of restriction that will balance what we’re willing to accept in the realm of the number of people who get sick and potentially die. The more we ease restrictions, the more people that get sick and die. The more we keep restrictions in place, the fewer people that get sick, but it is a balancing act.”
Her assessment proved prophetic. On Thursday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 375 new confirmed and presumed cases of COVID-19, the state’s highest one-day total during the pandemic.
“Oregon has experienced five weeks of case growth and cases are rising faster in our rural communities and in central and eastern Oregon,” OHA said in a press release.
Will you mask up?: On Thursday, Brown launched a statewide PR campaign to back up her mask mandate.
Masks can be effective in preventing the wearer from transmitting certain germs to someone else. That is why surgeons wear them while performing operations, and why I donned mine before reaching the drive-thru window at the coffee shop.
However, the statewide campaign confounds me for three reasons. First is the tagline, “This summer, wear a mask. Don’t accidentally kill someone.” Research suggests that fear-based marketing campaigns are less successful than other approaches.
Second is that the campaign doesn’t appear to address the reasons why some people believe masks are ineffective, inappropriate or an invasion of personal rights.
Third is Oregonians’ polarized attitude toward Brown. Those who like her will be swayed by her pleas to wear face coverings. Those who don’t like her will not. And polling indicates few Oregonians are neutral toward Brown. As she indicated during her press conferences, community influencers will play a critical role in whether individuals heed the mask mandate.
Oregon is not unique. Democrats and Republicans are just as polarized on the national level, whether rating President Donald Trump or evaluating our economy.
Portland-based DHM Research reported last month that Oregonians are becoming more pessimistic about the state’s direction. A survey found 43% of Oregonians believed the state was headed in the right direction, down significantly from 56% in April.
“Oregonians who report that the state is are moving in the right direction largely do so because of Oregon’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top three responses include: community compliance, re-opening the state, and successful COVID-19 response,” DHM said on its blog.
“The most popular reason reported for why Oregon is moving in the wrong direction were Governor Kate Brown and the government in general. … 17% of respondents felt we are moving in the wrong direction because Oregon is opening too soon and fear that the infection rate of COVID-19 will increase. On the opposite end, 14% of respondents believe we are reopening too slowly and need to move faster.”
However, Oregonians overall gave higher ratings to Brown and the Legislature than to Trump and Congress.
Side note: I attended small graduation party for a McMinnville High School senior on Sunday. Except when eating, everyone wore masks, including the high schoolers, although some younger kids did so off-and-on.
A table was set up on the driveway with a supply of masks, hand sanitizer and sidewalk chalk.
Physical distancing also was observed, which I’m fine with, because I'm shy at such events. I gladly sat off to the side, probably farther than necessary, but occasionally chatted through my mask.