48948876681_fe3560068a_c.jpg
Governor Kate Brown

Update, Thursday 10:20 am:

Brown held a press conference Thursday morning with Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and local elected officials to give more details about the state's strategy to address COVID-19. Brown called the coronavirus an "unprecedentic global health crisis," and said the new large gathering ban is part of the state's focus "on preventing the worst impacts of a mass outbreak from coming to pass.”

“Let me be clear," Brown added. "Coronavirus is in our communities. We should be prepared for thousands of cases in Oregon."

Oregon currently has 21 confirmed cases—but according to Dean Sidelinger, public health official with the OHA, there are likely a total of between 150 and 250 total cases in the state. Using Washington health researchers' metric that cases double each week, that means Oregon could have 75,000 cases by mid-May.

Brown said that public schools will stay open for now, and called school closures a "last resort" to combat COVID-19's spread. It's important schools stay open as long as possible, she said, because many families rely on schools for childcare, meals, and health services. However, she is directing schools to cancel all field trips and extracurricular activities.

Brown acknowledged that the new public gathering rules will likely have a negative impact on "our daily lives, our livelihoods, and Oregon's economy," but that her "first order of business is to protect the health of Oregonians."

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury also spoke at the press conference, and Wheeler announced that Portland has declared a state of emergency in order to open up new funding resources.

Original story, Thursday 7 am:

Citing concerns over the rapid spread of COVID-19, Oregon Governor Kate Brown has placed a month-long ban on all gatherings of 250 people or more in the state, effective immediately.

“Nobody is immune to this virus, it can touch everyone," Brown said in a press release sent late Wednesday. “We are seeing cases across multiple counties and age groups, and in people exposed through different circumstances. It's time for us all to do what we can to slow its spread and take care of one another."

Brown's announcement follows Washington Governor Jay Inslee's Wednesday decision to plan a similar ban on large gatherings in Seattle's metro region.

Oregon now has 21 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 across eight counties, including one confirmed case in Multnomah County.

Brown's press release mentions a change in the way state health officials are tracking COVID-19's spread. Until Wednesday, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) was primarily focusing on reducing the virus' spread by monitoring the health of everyone who'd come close contact with someone carrying the virus.

But now, according to the governor's office: "As the number of positive cases increases across Oregon, public health resources will be directed toward implementing the guidelines and policies in this statewide mitigation plan, and reducing focus on aggressive contact follow-up on each individual positive case."

Brown sent the announcement the same day she sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and congressional leaders requesting additional funding to address Oregon's COVID-19 response.

Support The Portland Mercury

"We are already starting to see the ways that Americans lives will undoubtedly be disrupted as this disease spreads," Brown wrote. "The federal government and states must work together and take decisive action to blunt the impacts to people’s lives and livelihoods."

Her letter prioritizes funding for lab testing equipment, surgical masks, respirators, ventilators, and other protective gear. "To date," Brown noted, "we have received none of the requested PPE [personal protective equipment]." Brown also requested flexibility in federal-funded programs—like unemployment benefits, reduced food programs, and rental assistance.

Brown will elaborate on her statewide recommendations—including new workplace guidance—at a 9 am press conference Thursday.