Gov. Kate Brown drastically revised long-standing COVID-19 benchmarks on Tuesday in an apparent attempt to keep restaurants and other businesses largely operating as is, avoiding harsh bans or restrictions on indoor activities.
Brown established a new requirement that indoor meals will be banned only if Oregon sees active COVID-19 hospitalizations rise statewide to 300, roughly double the current number, and if there is a 15% increase in the average daily hospitalizations week after week.
Brown made the revisions as cases and hospitalizations spiked in recent weeks, with the state reporting 544 new cases and 33 deaths Tuesday, though many of the deaths likely occurred weeks ago.
Brown has effectively created a buffer for businesses, somehow undermining his public message from last week calling for renewed efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus as part of a race to vaccinate more Oregonians before variants of the coronavirus break down. come back too unbridled.
The change means that Josephine, Klamath and Tillamook counties will avoid moving into the “extreme risk” category of the state that comes with tougher restrictions on businesses, such as banning indoor meals and setting severe caps on the number of people inside gyms and theaters.
Those restrictions were originally created last fall to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Other counties could similarly escape the restrictions in the coming weeks despite rising case rates, as long as hospitalizations don’t spike too much.
Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Brown, said the governor felt comfortable changing her criteria because Oregonians are being vaccinated against COVID-19, something that was not true when she implemented the metrics for trade restrictions last fall.
“Hospitalizations are an indicator of serious illness in our communities,” Boyle said in a statement. “By linking extreme risk to hospitalizations statewide, we will ensure that we do not institute the highest level of restrictions when hospital capacity is not threatened.”
Oregon reported 163 active hospitalizations Tuesday. Oregon could climb to about 300 hospitalizations in May if the dreaded spring increase materializes, according to the model released last week by the Oregon Health and Science University, meaning restaurants could face at least a month of suspension from the prohibition of eating indoors.
Large counties qualify for “extreme risk” and the strongest restrictions if they have at least 200 cases per 100,000 residents during a two-week period. That categorization triggers indoor dining and indoor visiting bans at long-term care facilities, and gyms and theaters generally cannot have more than six patrons.
Large counties at the next level, “high risk,” can offer indoor access at 25% of their capacity for up to 50 people, and indoor visits are allowed at call centers.
Fourteen counties will now be at the “high risk” level, including Multnomah and Clackamas counties, as of Friday. Those metropolitan area jurisdictions have degraded due to the increasing spread of the coronavirus, and as a result, certain businesses will see internal capacity drop from 50% to 25%.
Boyle noted that retreating counties like Multnomah and Clackamas still have to comply with what he labeled “significant restrictions” at the “high risk” level.
“Now, we need Oregonians to strictly follow current health and safety measures and get vaccinated as quickly as possible when a vaccine is available so that we can stop the spread of COVID-19,” Boyle said.
Vaccines: Oregon reported 32,955 newly administered doses, including 21,170 on Monday and the rest of the days before.
Where the new cases are by county: Baker (4), Benton (11), Clackamas (86), Clatsop (1), Columbia (5), Coos (10), Crook (2), Curry (2), Deschutes (35), Douglas (7), Grant (9), Harney (3), Hood River (2), Jackson (33), Jefferson (2), Josephine (12), Klamath (21), Lane (41), Lincoln (3), Linn (17) , Malheur (4), Marion (36), Multnomah (68), Polk (10), Sherman (1), Tillamook (7), Umatilla (8), Union (4), Wasco (1), Washington (97) and Yamhill (2).
Who died: The state did not immediately provide details of the 33 deaths.
Hospitalizations: 163 people with confirmed COVID-19 cases are hospitalized, 14 fewer than on Monday. That includes 42 people in intensive care, the same as Monday.
Since it started: Oregon has reported 167,658 suspected or confirmed infections and 2,427 deaths, among the lowest per capita figures in the nation. To date, the state has reported that 2,031,252 doses of vaccines have been administered.
– Brad Schmidt; [email protected]; 503-294-7628; @_brad_schmidt