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Gov. Kate Brown: Social Gatherings Are Fueling Oregon's COVID Rise

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown speaks at a press conference to address the coronavirus pandemic in Portland, Ore., Friday, March 20, 2020.
Bradley W. Parks
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown speaks at a press conference to address the coronavirus pandemic in Portland, Ore., Friday, March 20, 2020.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown says tougher quarantine rules might be needed if Oregonians refuse her calls to wear masks, keep their distance and wash their hands.

On Monday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she was “sounding the alarm” because COVID-19 is at risk of spiraling out of control. 

In response, she tightened regulations on indoor get togethers and required Oregonians to wear masks outside if they can’t stay six feet from other people. 

But more action may be required. 

The governor talked to OPB’s Think Out Loud Thursday.

When might she order the same kind of quarantine she implemented in March? 

"We are taking action now. That's why I reduced and limited indoor informal social gatherings and am asking Oregonians — ordering Oregonians — to wear face coverings not only when they are in businesses and public office buildings, but as they are moving outdoors.

These are the right tools to solve the specific challenges we are facing, but I've been very, very clear with Oregonians across the state: Your local businesses will only be able to stay open if you stay safe. I know we have our favorite coffee shops, our favorite brew pubs, our favorite restaurants, the shops. They can only stay open if Oregonians are willing to comply with the orders that I have put in place, which include limiting your indoor social gatherings to 10 or less people, it means wearing your face coverings. When you go out and you can't physically distance when you're in public spaces, wear your face coverings, wash, wash, wash your hands and maintain physical distance from folks who are not part of your household."

Where is the current spread originating? 

"The data is telling us that we are seeing COVID spread in basically three areas. Number one, obviously in congregate care facilities, assisted living and prisons. We're seeing challenges in workplace spread. But primarily we are seeing spread from social gatherings. That's why I substantially limited indoor social gatherings, starting yesterday. And we're also seeing community spread. I am taking these steps now in hopes of preventing more restrictive action in the future." 

Does she plan to release more prisoners as COVID numbers behind bars rise? 

"At this time, no. I’m taking this on a case-by-case basis. I just reviewed a handful of clemency petitions, and we will continue to proceed thoughtfully and methodically."

Why are cases rising among people in their 20s and 30s?

"I'll just rely on comments from physicians ... we are seeing flagrant violations of the social gathering limits, particularly in younger populations, folks under the age of 40."

How can Oregon think about reopening school campuseswhen it is limiting the size of indoor social gatherings? 

"It has been really, really clear that schools in the fall are not going to look like a normal school year. There's absolutely no question about that. I would argue that a party in someone's house where people are consuming, let's say, alcoholic beverages is very different than a school setting where we have rigid safety protocol in place. 

My goal here is to ensure the health and safety of our students, our teachers, and our professional staff — that has to be a top priority. And at the same time, we have to deliver a quality education for every single one of our students. The department has put out recommendations for school districts. School districts have three options: in person learning, online learning, distance education and a hybrid. And I think you will see based on infection rates and communities around the state, you will see different models.

When I closed down schools in March, we took a set of state-centralized approach. Reopening is going to look differently in communities around the state. And I want to encourage particularly parents and teachers to stay engaged in this conversation. I heard from really smart educators yesterday on our healthy schools reopening council. They are concerned as well. Let's work together. Let's look at innovative and creative techniques. Let's figure out how we do this in a way that ensures that all of our kids get access to a good education." 

Why give so much flexibility on reopening to local school districts? 

"Because the virus is really different in different communities around the state. You have, for example, on the South Coast, very low rates of infection spread. You have in the metropolitan areas, substantially higher rates. We obviously also have some very high rates of infection in rural communities as well, like Morrow and Umatilla counties.So I think that's really important, to reflect and recognize the different levels of community spread in regions around the state. Secondly, my reason for closure in the spring was frankly, practical. I remember very well in making this decision. I’d been on a call of superintendents on a Wednesday. Within less than 12 hours, superintendents were saying, we simply cannot adequately staff our classrooms in our schools. So that's what prompted my decision. I think we have more information about the virus now, we're working very closely with physicians, public health experts, and of course, school officials, teachers, and parents. … I am not willing to lose a generation of students." 

It’s cleardistance learning will be part of many plans. What support is the state giving schools? 

"I am pushing our school officials, superintendents around the state, to make sure that our underserved and marginalized students, our kids of color and our low-income kids, get the support and opportunities that they need … The primary focus is around equity and ensuring that those who are historically underserved get the support, the resources and the tools they need to thrive and to achieve their full potential." 

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Julie Sabatier, Dave Miller