PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and other health officials held a press conference on Friday to explain the rationale behind the week-long, statewide “pause” on all pending applications for reopening.
Brown issued the statewide pause on Thursday evening. Multnomah County was hoping to get approval to enter Phase 1 of reopening on Friday — but that’s now on hold, putting many businesses in further limbo and frustrating a number of people who are itching to get back to a semblance of normality.
In Friday’s press conference, Brown said this is more of a caution sign rather than a full-on stop.
“This is essentially a statewide yellow light,” said Brown. “This one week pause will give our public health experts time to assess what factors are driving the spread of the virus and determine what if we need to adjust our approach to reopening. I will continue to work with doctors and public health experts to determine whether to lift the pause, extend the pause or make other adjustments.”
She said she understands how frustrating the reopening process is, acknowledging that it’s been especially tough on business owners.
“My job, however, is to make tough decisions even when they are unpopular,” Brown said. “When it comes to the safety and health of Oregonians — the buck stops here.”
When asked why it took until late Thursday night to make her announcement on Multnomah County’s status, Brown said she was speaking with local health officials the entire day and it was an extremely difficult decision to make.
She continued to list the ways individuals can slow the spread, by practicing the same things we’ve been told for months: wash your hands, wear a mask, socially distance and stay close to home.
Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen was in attendance as well, echoing Brown’s remarks and imploring people to continue their efforts towards mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.
Allen discussed the findings on what is driving the increases in cases. He cited large workplace outbreaks and said any evidence of the most recent protests contributing to the spread is not yet available.
“These workplace outbreaks have affected our overall totals and our daily numbers. We are performing increasing testing and testing is turning out more people who are infected, which is what we would expect,” Allen said.
“It’s still not clear whether the recent large demonstrations in Portland or other communities around the state have resulted in the spread of coronavirus, but we will have more evidence in the coming days as local health officials contact people with recently diagnosed cases.”
State Epidemiologist Doctor Dean Sidelinger concurred, saying at this time there are no reports of anyone who has attended a protest testing positive for COVID-19.
Although news of the spread can be daunting and disheartening, Allen said there are good things happening.
“There are some positive signs. Emergency department visits at hospitals for COVID-like illnesses are below 1% and have remained low and level for several weeks,” Allen said. “Local health officials are staying on top of contact tracing, most cases of coronavirus are being linked to a known source and only 22% can’t be traced to a prior exposure.”
He said the positive rate of COVID-19 tests is only at 3% — well below the national average but still worrisome.
According to Allen, tests are finding more asymptomatic cases — a good thing, especially for our hospital systems. The models used by state health officials predicted that increases in cases would happen. Those models, he said, are now confirmed.
“Today’s pause is a reminder — not a rollback,” Allen said. “My biggest fear is that people will treat Phase 1 or Phase 2 as a return to things the way they were before the pandemic began.”
Sidelinger agreed, saying he hopes Oregonians will take steps to protect themselves, their families and communities.
“We all need to stay vigilant and do our part to keep COVID-19 contained,” he said.
Allen and Sidelinger also reminded people that if you hear from a contact tracer, answer the call and answer their questions.
Brown said the freeze comes after an increase in COVID-19 cases has been documented “in both rural and urban communities.” On Thursday, for the second time in less than a week, Oregon recorded its most-ever daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the Oregon Health Authority reported.
During the press conference, Brown apologized multiple times to those frustrated by the pause. She borrowed a phrase from Doctor Anthony Fauci, saying that we don’t make the timeline — the virus does.
“This is impacting all of us. Each one of our actions make a difference,” Brown said. “We’re asking all Oregonians to be considerate of your fellow Oregonians.”
This week, the governor’s office received four county applications for reopening, including Multnomah County’s. Hood River, Marion, and Polk Counties also applied to move into Phase 2 of reopening.
Multnomah County submitted their application last week and on Wednesday, met to go over data and progress, showing some improvement. However, there has been a recent spike in hospitalizations in Multnomah County, and over 40% of the new cases diagnosed have not been traced to a source, according to the OHA and repeated by Sidelinger at the press conference.
The governor’s announcement also cited the outbreaks at workplaces in Hood River County, a rise in cases and one workplace outbreak in Polk County, and an almost 40% increase in cases and new hospitalizations in Marion County.
The freeze will hold counties in the current phase of reopening that they are in: Multnomah County is the only county still at a “baseline status,” six counties are in Phase 1, and 29 counties are in Phase 2.
With the announcement, business owners are feeling a sense of hopelessness. The county’s goal for reopening by Friday gave them a light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to — which has now been snuffed out.
Business owners said that because the other counties have already opened, businesses in Multnomah are falling further behind.