This past Friday, Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) announced new COVID-19 restrictions on five counties: Umatilla, Malheur, Marion, Jackson, and Multnomah. After several weeks of unprecedented spread, stricter measures have been placed since the initial “stay home, stay safe” measures were implemented in March. Though Oregon has been doing better limiting the spread, Brown says we need to go back to our offensive strategies against the virus. The biggest challenge is the increasing outbreak is not due to school or workplace gatherings, but small social gatherings and one-on-one meetings.
Due to the increasing COVID-19 rates, counties with exceptionally high cases will be put on a two-week pause for social gatherings, starting November 11th to November 25th. “Businesses in those counties are encouraged to have employees work from home when possible, restaurants and bars are asked to limit dining to outdoor seating or take-out whenever possible, and businesses are asked to cap their total capacity at 50” (Ross, 3). In addition, visits to long-term care facilities will also be paused and private social gatherings are asked to be limited.
Governor Brown is frustrated at the number of Oregonians not taking restrictions seriously. Looking at the data, it is clear that not everyone is listening to the suggested guidelines. “Let me be very clear: For this two-week pause, please, please, please limit your social interactions to your own household,” Gov. Kate Brown expresses. If cases continue to rise, Brown will increase restrictions.
The two-week pause is intended to be either a wake-up call or call to action, for those who aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously. If people do not change their behavior, COVID-19 will grow out of control.
Once a county has a rate of 200 infections per 100,000 residents, new restrictions will come into effect for two weeks or more. “There are separate metrics for smaller, rural counties. Currently, five counties — Umatilla, Malheur, Marion, Jackson, and Multnomah — have crossed the 200-case threshold and will be put under the increased restrictions” (Ross, 7). Washington, Baker, Clackamas, Union, and Linn counties are also seeing cases rise at a rapid rate and are on the border of being added to the pause list; OHA plans to reevaluate its numbers today.
It is important to remember that just because a county is not currently on the pause list, does not mean people should continue their lives as normal.
These policy changes are also hoped to be reflected in social gatherings as well for all Oregonians. Previously, officials have raised concerns that looser COVID-19 restrictions in public could potentially result in people taking fewer precautions in their private/social lives. These new public restrictions are hoped to convince people to take more daily precautions.
“The new call for action comes as cases climb across Oregon, with a record of 805 new cases reported Thursday. On Friday, 770 new cases were reported” (Ross, 14). Oregon reported 3,542 new COVID-19 cases from the week of October 26th-November 4th; The highest number yet, 34% higher than the previous week.
In terms of exponential growth, the rate is incredibly concerning. The numbers Oregon is seeing are far beyond what OHA expected, even in the worst-case scenario projected. The worst-case scenario presented in the new model assumed that transmission would rise by 5%, and Oregon would be seeing 520 newly diagnosed cases each day by November 19th. Increased numbers were expected in the past, but not this high.
Oregon’s epidemiological models, predicting the increase of rates, also serve to predict hospital capacity needs; But with cases rising exponentially, models can be outdated by the time they’re published, posing additional challenges for public health officials who want to increase needed restrictions before hospitals are full, which may be inevitable.
Oregon officials think there may still be time to slow the progression of the pandemic, but with little ICU capacity left, results need to be seen fast.
This blog post was written by Krista Pham, our intern.
The article that inspired this piece can be found, here.