Gov. Kate Brown says she won’t reopen Oregon’s economy or ease restrictions until she sees a declining rate of active cases of the novel coronavirus and public health data that suggests a return to normalcy is safe.
In a press conference Tuesday, Brown outlined what needs to happen before the state is ready to reopen for business: she wants to ensure the state has a robust testing, tracing and isolation strategy, and she needs to feel confident the state has enough hospital beds to treat any surge of COVID-19 cases and enough protective gear for healthcare workers.
In addition, she said, the state is working on strategies to help prevent and respond to the virus among the state’s most vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes and those experiencing homelessness.
The governor didn’t give a specific timeline.
“While we have to be careful, we also cannot stand still,” she said. “We all know this is a global problem and leaders across the world are struggling how to approach this.”
A shuttering of the economy on this scale has never happened before, Brown said, and neither has a reopening strategy on this level.
To prepare to reopen the economy, the governor said she would be reaching out to industries affected by the shutdown, such as restaurants and hair salons. Brown suggested she could ease restrictions in certain parts of the state first, and that she might mandate that some currently shuttered businesses adopt new safety standards — like using masks or installing plastic shields — in order to reopen. She emphasized that the process wouldn’t happen overnight and would likely occur on a sector-by-sector basis.
“It’s not going to be easy, and it will take longer than we want,” she said.
One early step toward restarting the economy, state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said, should be allowing nonessential procedures to begin in hospitals once again. Those procedures were restricted by Brown in March as a way to preserve bed space and PPE, but have led to financial difficulties for hospital systems reliant on elective operations.
Brown didn’t offer specific details on how much protective gear — gowns, masks and gloves — would be necessary before she felt confident Oregon was prepared to reopen for business. But she said she is working on a step-by-step plan to offer more clarity in the future.
Under current modeling, Oregon is expected to have enough open hospital beds to weather the crisis. That could change if social distancing measures are eased prematurely, officials say.
Brown and other West Coast governors announced on Monday that they plan to take a coordinated approach to the “incremental release” of their stay-home orders. The announcement came shortly after President Donald Trump tweeted he had the authority to unilaterally re-open businesses around the country. Brown said she is working with the West Coast governors to finalize guidelines to reopen the state, but she said that doesn’t mean every state would be opening on the same time frame.
Washington’s stay-at-home order currently runs through May 4. Oregon has not put an end date on its order.
As one key component of Oregon’s reopening strategy, Sidelinger said Oregon also needs the ability to significantly ramp up its testing capacity. He set a goal of roughly 15,000 test per week, almost double the rate Oregon is currently testing people. Sidelinger said that amount of testing should give the state leeway to test people in order to better detect the disease in the community, rather than just testing people with symptoms.
The state also needs a more robust way to trace the contacts of the people who have tested positive for COVID-19, Sidelinger said. But neither Brown nor Sidelinger gave more specifics on what that increased ability would look like or when it could happen.
Oregon, Washington and California have recently been praised for managing to avoid the toll the coronavirus is taking on New York City and some other areas. The three states have shipped spare ventilators to cities on the East Coast.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Oregon health officials announced 1,633 confirmed cases in the state and 55 deaths. California had reported 21,794 cases and 651 deaths as of Saturday. Washington had reported 10,411 confirmed cases and 508 deaths as of Saturday.
Brown first ordered Oregon schools to cancel in-person classes on March 12, and shuttered many bars and restaurants in the state days later. She issued a more widespread “stay home, save lives” order on March 23, the same day as Washington and four days after California.