Most COVID-19 safety restrictions will be lifted statewide when 70 percent of Oregonians 16 and older receive their first dose of the vaccine, Governor Kate Brown announced in a press conference Tuesday.
Current vaccination rates indicate 70 percent of Oregonians will receive at least their first dose by the end of June. Because vaccine supply and distribution capacity are no longer an issue, Brown is shifting the state’s efforts towards reducing the racial and ethnic disparities in vaccine distribution. Starting May 21, counties will be eligible to move to “Lower Risk” status when 65 percent of the county’s residents 16 and older receive their first vaccine dose and the county has submitted a plan to close vaccine equity gaps to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). “Lower Risk” status means that most food and entertainment establishments, including indoor dining and gyms, can operate at 50 percent capacity.
Multnomah County is currently under "High Risk" restrictions. Based on current projections, Multnomah County should be ready to move to the “Lower Risk” tier by May 21 unless the county opts out, or fails to submit an equity plan to OHA by May 14. As of Tuesday, about 60 percent of adult Multnomah County residents and 49 percent of adults statewide have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
“It looks like we’ve crossed the tipping point of the fourth surge,” Brown said during the press conference. "Our hospitalization rates have stabilized, our infection rates are on a downward trajectory, and in the race between vaccines and variants, our efforts to vaccinate Oregonians are taking the lead.”
This announcement comes after vaccination rates across the state have slowed. Earlier this week, both the Oregon Convention Center vaccination clinic and Portland International Airport’s drive-thru site announced they would close in June due to a decrease in demand.
According to OHA Director Patrick Allen, if vaccination rates dip by 10 percent and plateau over the next couple weeks as expected, Oregon will reach the 70 percent vaccination rate by the third week of June. Even if vaccination rates dropped by 50 percent, OHA predicts 70 percent of Oregonians will be vaccinated by July 1.
Notably, statewide restrictions will be lifted once 70 percent of Oregonians have at least one dose of the vaccine, regardless of an individual county’s vaccination average. For example, a vaccine-hesitant county in Eastern Oregon might only have 30 percent of its population vaccinated when the state reaches the 70 percent benchmark and lifts restrictions statewide.
Brown emphasized the importance of closing the vaccination equity gap during the press conference. Non-white Oregonians have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and have not seen the same vaccination rates as white Oregonians. As vaccines have become more widely available in the past couple of weeks, the gap in vaccination rates across race and ethnicity has started to close, according to OHA. State data also shows that over the past 14 days, vaccination rates for Black and Latinx Oregonians have increased by 23 percent and 24 percent respectively. Vaccination rates for white Oregonians have increased by 13 percent in the past two weeks.
Brown lauded Hood River and Washington counties for their successful efforts to close equity gaps in their vaccine rollouts. The counties have opened vaccination sites at senior centers, churches, and near manufacturing plants to increase vaccination rates among non-white residents. The state will offer funding to assist with similar efforts throughout Oregon.
As vaccinations for people 16 and older continue, state leaders are looking toward vaccinating children. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds on Monday. The Centers for Disease Control is expected to approve the vaccine as soon as Wednesday, and then OHA will need to give the go-ahead to start vaccinating younger Oregonians. State epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said more information about vaccines for children ages 12 to 15 will become available later this week.
Brown will announce which counties are eligible to move to “Lower Risk,” which may include Multnomah County, on May 18.