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Facing an expected "exponential" surge in COVID-19 cases, Oregon's top health experts are recommending—but not mandating—measures to curb transmission.

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In a Friday media call, Oregon Health Authority OHA) Director Patrick Allen said he's asking Oregonians to voluntarily avoid indoor social gatherings where more than ten people are in attendance. Until today, all Oregon counties have been given permission to gather in groups of 25 at most.

"It's critically important for Oregonians to understand that gradually lifting the 'Stay Home, Stay Safe' order does not mean the same as going back to normal," said Allen. "If we don't see dramatic changes in our infection rates, our trends will push Oregon into a very worrying situation."

OHA estimates that only 20 percent of COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed, meaning that the state's reported 275 new cases for Friday is closer to 1,375.

According to new OHA forecasts, if COVID-19 cases continue on its current upward trend, the state could see this daily tally triple to around 3,600 by July 30. If the current rate increases 10 percent, the number of daily cases could reach 7,300 by that date, and the daily number of people hospitalized due to the virus could skyrocket from around 17 to 76.

OHA has also considered what a 10 percent drop in transmission would look like in Oregon. Yet, even this forecast estimates a growth in daily cases to around 1,600 and daily hospitalizations to 24 by the end of July.

"Infections are growing more and more quickly," said State Epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger, who was also on the call. He said this rate could put a strain on hospital's capacity to treat patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Sidelinger noted that the majority of these outbreaks have stemmed from social gatherings or workplace transmissions across the state. He urged Oregonians to continue washing their hands, limiting interactions with people outside of their household, and wearing a mask when in public. It's guidance Gov. Kate Brown has pushed since mid-May.

And yet, Sidelinger admitted: "Our efforts to get Oregonians to modify their behaviors have not been as successful as needed."

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The state officials noted that Oregonians may have become less strict about following the state's physical distancing, mask-wearing, and crowd size recommendations after seeing businesses like bars, shops, and restaurants allowed to reopen.

However, Allen said, that's not reason enough to shut those businesses down.

"The risk is very real economic impacts," said Allen. "The same populations disproportionately impacted by the disease are suffering disproportionate economic impacts... It’s an ongoing balancing act. How do you help people provide for themselves while also protecting their health?"

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