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Health and Medicine

Freeze, Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown Restricts Businesses Again As COVID-19 Cases Surge

As COVID-19 cases surge, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is announcing a return to many business restrictions she first instituted this spring.
As COVID-19 cases surge, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is announcing a return to many business restrictions she first instituted this spring.

The order will last at least two weeks and also restricts private gatherings and worship services. Some businesses and schools will be allowed to continue operations.

Alarmed by a dramatic and sustained uptick in new cases of COVID-19, Gov. Kate Brown on Friday announced strict regulations meant to decrease interactions among Oregonians.

The two-week “freeze” harkens back to many of the restrictions of the “stay home, save lives” order Brown issued in March. It will take effect on Wednesday, Nov. 18, and extend to at least Dec. 2. Restrictions under the new framework apply statewide, not just in counties with acute coronavirus spread.

New regulations include:

“These risk reduction measures are critical in limiting the spread of COVID-19, reducing risk in communities more vulnerable to serious illness and death, and helping conserve hospital capacity so that all Oregonians can continue to have access to quality care,” Brown’s office said in a news release.

The increased regulations are the toughest steps Brown has taken since a series of executive orders in the early days of the pandemic. But they also aren’t as widespread.

For instance, K-12 schools, sports and childcare services currently operating will see no meaningful change. Neither will higher education, or Division 1 athletics (think Ducks and Beavers football). Services such as hair salons, barber shops and massage parlors can all continue under their current operations.

The Oregon Health Authority plans to issue specific guidance by sector in coming days. It wasn’t immediately clear how Brown would seek to enforce the new rules. In the past, authorities have taken a largely hands-off approach to policing individual conduct related to COVID-19 safety, while businesses have faced possible penalties for flouting regulations.

Oregon officials have long shied away from once again shutting down portions of the state economy, but have also warned that it could be necessary if COVID-19 spread gets out of control.

Now, that’s happened. In recent days, the state has continually set records for new daily cases, notching a worrisome 1,122 new cases Thursday. That’s the first time new daily cases have eclipsed 1,000.

The increase in cases is believed to be at least partly due to colder autumn weather, which is driving people indoors for small gatherings that would otherwise occur in the open air.

That’s a point that was pushed Friday by a coalition of state trade groups and chambers of commerce. In a letter bracing for new restrictions, the group called on Brown to delay new limits on business. Instead, the business groups suggested a robust public education campaign about private gatherings and increased testing and tracing of cases, among other potential steps that would not be as painful for business owners and their employees.

“Resorting to previously enacted restrictions and closures that ultimately punish businesses for spread that is outside of their control is not the right solution,” the letter said. “We implore you, Governor, if you are considering additional restrictions or actual closures, please take a pause.”

For health officials, public information campaigns have not seemed effective enough.

Medical officials have warned that hospitals could fill up if the trend isn’t checked. Already, Oregon Health & Science University has enacted the first steps of its COVID-19 contingency plans, converting one of its intensive care units into a COVID-only space. Some hospitals have begun limiting elective procedures in order to keep resources available for a surge of coronavirus patients, the Oregonian/OregonLive has reported.

“When people become ill, we need to assure that there are enough hospital beds, PPE, and staff to prepare,” Brown said Tuesday at a media briefing. PPE is a reference to personal protective equipment such as gloves and face coverings. “This is very serious. Oregon is headed on the wrong road.”

Oregon has announced 746 deaths due to the coronavirus as of Friday morning, along with 53,779 known cases.

On Friday, Brown also joined the governors of Washington and California in announcing a joint “travel advisory.” While all three states are urging people to avoid unnecessary travel, they’re also asking that people who visit — or return home from another state — voluntarily self-quarantine for two weeks.

“As hospitals across the West are stretched to capacity, we must take steps to ensure travelers are not bringing this disease home with them,” Brown said in a statement. “If you do not need to travel, you shouldn’t.”

This story will be updated.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting