PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Governor Kate Brown and other local leaders discussed the strategies behind a set of new rules meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in a press conference Thursday morning.

Governor Brown was joined by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. Also present where the Oregon Health Authority’s Dr. Jennifer Vines, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, and Director Patrick Allen. This press conference came after Governor Brown announced a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people in the state of Oregon.

“I want to clarify that this guidance applies to organized events, but does not apply to places where other large numbers of people gather such as stores, shopping centers or schools,” said Governor Brown. “Building on this school guidance, my administration released earlier this week that schools stay open. We are adding guidelines that virtually all school activities and gatherings should be cancelled including field trips parent meetings and competitions. These measures have been recommended by public health experts.

Brown said consideration of school closures will be a last resort.

Watch: Complete press conference with Gov. Brown, state leaders

“Let me be clear — coronavirus is in our communities. We should be prepared for thousands of cases in Oregon,” she said. “These actions I’m taking today have two main goals: to slow the transmission of this disease and to preserve hospital capacity for those who need it most.”

Brown said taking these steps can help save lives.

“This disease does not discriminate,” she said. “My commitment to you today is I will do everything in my power to keep Oregon families healthy and safe.”

Wheeler declares state of emergency for Portland

Mayor Ted Wheeler announced he has declared a state of emergency in the city of Portland.

“Due to COVID-19’s progression on the west coast, I believe it is in the best interest of public health to declare a state of emergency at this time,” said Wheeler. It gives the city additional authority to properly address the threat of infection and harm. It also gives us the tools we need to support the county, the state and our own city employees.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a State of Emergency in Portland during a coronavirus press conference with city, state and health officials, March 12, 2020 (KOIN)

Mayor Wheeler also announced the city will not shut off water service in the case of unpaid bills during the state of emergency. The city has made this decision to ensure everyone has access to the utilities they need to stay healthy and to not worry in case of financial hardship.

On the economic front, Wheeler said the city is working to help small and large business alike to recoup losses due to the outbreak.

“I’ve directed a team at the city to generate ideas for a stimulus package and will work with Prosper Portland to convene a COVID-19 economic impact task force to analyze other ways we can be of help.”

Thousands of city employees are being “aggressively protected,” according to the mayor. The city is increasing options for working from home, cancelling non-essential work gatherings and travel for meetings or conferences, along with encouraging those feeling ill to stay home.

Wheeler implored citizens to help their neighbors whenever possible.

“We see, we hear and we understand the anxiety and fears that people are expressing,” he said. “But at a time when it is tempting to act out in a state of panic or fear — I want to say this loud and clear: all of us here, from the state, to the region, to the county, to the city — we are working around the clock to make sure your health and your safety are protected.

“We are making every decision with that priority in mind.”

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury stepped up to the podium to discuss further steps the county has taken and will continue to take.

Kafoury said the county will be keeping winter shelter beds open and will be offering hotel vouchers to prevent overcrowding. Public bathrooms have been updated with hand sanitizing stations and community hygiene stations are being expanded citywide. Kafoury said extra resources have been committed to keep as many people as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

‘Situation moved at warp speed’

Officials from the OHA spoke next, diving deeper into the strategies and precautions the organization is taking as the outbreak grows.

“While we only have 19 people in Oregon who have tested positive for the virus and looking at estimates in Washington, we estimate there could be 150 to 250 cases right now in Oregon,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger of Oregon Health Authority. “If we take projections from Washington Infectious Disease researchers and estimate a doubling of cases every week, which may be conservative, this could mean over 75,000 cases in Oregon by mid-may without taking aggressive action.”

Dr. Jennifer Vines said that aggressive action includes changing their strategies to focus on social distancing, which she said is the best way to try to slow the spread of the virus through the community.

Dr. Jennifer Vines, the lead health officer for the tri-county region, makes remarks at a coronavirus press conference in Portland, March 12, 2020 (KOIN)

“This situation has moved at warp speed and public health has been keeping up as best we can, understanding that lives are on the line — as well as livelihoods,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines.

In terms of testing, Governor Brown said the state would appreciate more, but “we have an adequate amount” of COVID-19 tests at the moment.

“We are concerned, frankly, about our testing capacity and we are working with our federal partners and HHF, however the federal government is the only one who can expand our testing capacity and we are calling on them to do that,” she said.

“We have not seen anything like this in our lifetimes, all we need to do is look around at what is happening around the entire world,” she said. “Our focus is on keeping Oregonians safe and obviously keeping the economy humming and we’re going to do everything possible that we can but it is — as you know — it certainly has been a roller-coaster, there’s no question about it.”

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New measures affecting large gatherings, schools, workplaces and long-term care and assisted-living facilities announced Wednesday:

  1. Large gatherings: All large gatherings over 250 people will be canceled statewide effective immediately for four weeks. A gathering is defined as any event in a space in which appropriate social distancing of a minimum of three feet cannot be maintained. 
  2. Schools: In addition to previous guidance issued on March 8, 2020 to keep schools open, all non-essential school-associated gatherings and group activities should be canceled — such as group parent meetings, field trips, and competitions.
  3. Workplace: Recommended implementation of distancing measures including an increased physical space between employees in offices and worksites, limited in-person meetings, limited travel, and staggered work schedules where possible.
  4. Long-Term Care and Assisted Living: Strict limitations announced this week by the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Human Services remain in place.

Oregon closures

Already, many events have been canceled or postponed indefinitely. Elementary and high schools continue to monitor and work closely with health officials. Area colleges are adjusting and many are going to a distance-learning program, with classes and meetings online.

Washington closures

On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee instituted a similar ban on gatherings of more than 250 people. Seattle Public Schools closed for at least 2 weeks.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.