It's official: All Oregon restaurants and bars will be limited to delivery and take-out only, beginning Tuesday, March 17.
Those business will be closed to the public for at least four weeks, according to Gov. Kate Brown, who announced the new limitations—due to the rapid spread of COVID-19—at an afternoon press conference. In addition, Brown declared a statewide moratorium on all events and gatherings larger than 25 people, with workplaces, grocery stores, public schools, pharmacies, and retail stores exempt from the ban.
"The actions we take today will change lives," said Brown.
Business owners who defy the restaurant and bar rules will be subject to a Class C misdemeanor charge.
"However, I ask you to comply with the spirit of the law," said Brown, "so our law enforcement officers can focus on more pressing needs of our communities during this emergency."
Without these restrictions in place, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) estimates that approximately 75,000 Oregonians could contract COVID-19 by May.
Brown said she's created a task force to address the financial impacts her new rules will have on the state economy.
"We're looking at a variety of tools that we have, including a request to the Oregon Legislature and of course, the federal government," said Brown. She told reporters she anticipates calling a special legislative session in the next few weeks to address this unexpected crisis. Brown has declared an "abnormal market disruption" regarding items like hand sanitizer and toilet paper, a declaration that allows the Oregon Attorney General's office to take legal action against any vendor who upsells the price of "essential consumer goods" by more than 15 percent.
Brown also announced a new statewide plan to manage the pandemic—one that will unify Portland metro region's major hospitals to respond to the crisis as a centralized team.
According to Dr. Renee Edwards, chief medical officer for Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU), OHSU is uniting their operations with Legacy Health, Providence Health, and Kaiser Permanente to streamline their response and hospital beds.
"We have an obligation to work together," said Edwards. "And to prepare for worst-case scenario."
Without increased intervention, Oregon's COVID-19 cases are expected to double every 6 days, and an estimated 20 percent of Oregonians who are infected will require hospitalization. Edwards said Oregon hospitals are not prepared for that surge in patients.
"Without a significant slowing of COVID-19, Oregon will not be able to serve hospital needs of Oregonians without creating more hospital beds," said Edwards.
Oregon currently has around 6,000 hospital beds. Unless the virus' spread is curtailed, OHA estimates COVID-19 patients may occupy 1,400 of them by April 11, displacing other patients in need of urgent care.
"We’re working hard to prepare for this surge," said Edwards. "But make no mistake, social distancing works. This is hard, it is not what we typically do, but the virus is here—and the goal is to slow the spread so fewer people need hospital care all at the same time as part of a surge."
Brown said the state plans to expand hospital bed capacity in non-hospital settings. She also noted that Oregon has only received "one-tenth" of the items and funding from the federal government Brown requested last week.
Dr. Dana Hargunani, OHA's chief medical officer, said that the state public health lab is still limited in the number of COVID-19 testing kits supplied by the federal government.
"We have had to prioritize these limited testing resources for the sickest people and the people who are most at risk," said Hargunani. "We are doing all that we can to open the testing pipeline. It's important for Oregonians to understand that testing supplies remain limited due to federal decisions and supply chain constrictions. We simply don't have all the testing capability we would want."
Andrew Phelps, director of Oregon's Office of Emergency Management, said state agencies have deployed an emergency plan to coordinate relief efforts. Phelps said it's the same plan the state intends to use in the event of the anticipated Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.
"This systems ensures connectivity between OHA and the state's emergency coordination center," said Phelps.
Brown's announcement comes four days after she declared a statewide ban on gatherings of more than 250 people. Today, Brown said she has no current plans to shutter airports, penalize people who are hoarding cleaning and sanitary supplies, or extend her two-week closure of public schools to a full month. She also noted that, as governor, she has no power to close tribal casinos on sovereign land.
OHA's Hargunani advised Oregonians to prepare for the unknown.
"I know these are sweeping measures and they will create hardship and distribution for Oregon's families, communities, and business," said Hargunani. "The fabrics of our lives will be fundamentally changed. This will not be easy for anyone."