On Nov. 18, a two-week “freeze” began, ordered by Gov. Kate Brown, tightening restrictions on public activities in the hope of limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has spiked to alarming new heights in recent days. That period is almost over, ending on Dec. 3, but many restrictions will remain in effect on a county-by-county basis.
Each county in the state is classified as either low-risk, moderate-risk, high-risk, or extreme-risk, based on how many new cases are reported, per capita, during a two-week period. Benton County is one of 5 counties classified as High Risk. So is neighboring Lincoln County. Neighbors Linn, Lane, Marion and Polk are classified as Extreme Risk. Each county’s status will be re-evaluated every two weeks.
In High Risk counties, gatherings are limited to two households with a recommended maximum number of people set at six if indoors, eight if outdoors. Indoor dinging will be available, but cannot exceed 25% of a restaurant’s capacity. Fitness establishments will reopen with restrictions, as will entertainment establishments like aquariums. Retail stores will be allowed 50% of capacity. There are other risk-specific restrictions provided by the state.
“There is not a ‘no risk’ category,” Brown warned at a press conference. “Until our COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, health and safety precautions will remain in place.”
These new regulations are very different from the reopening Governor Brown had planned for. At the press conference she said the current plan is meant to be a compromise between the “freeze” and the complete reopening which others are urging.
Patrick Allen, Director of the Oregon Health Authority, said at the press conference, “We know that there are many casualties of COVID-19 among people who have never contracted the virus. It’s stolen their livelihoods, their homes or their emotional well-being without ever having attacked their bodies.”
“The good news is that there is some light at the end of the tunnel,” Brown said, referring to the expected arrival of multiple vaccines in weeks to come. The state government plans to take delivery of at least 30,000 doses to give to health care workers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have promised as many as 194,000 doses, but the details from Atlanta are “a bit hazy,” Allen admitted. After health care workers, next in line would be vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and people with serious medical conditions.
The number of COVID-19 infections rose sharply in late November, due to increased traffic and family gatherings which brought together people who do not live together. While some people observed the recommended precautions, many did not, and carried on as though it were an ordinary November.
How the infection rate will respond to the dark winter months and the December holidays is not yet known, but epidemiologists observe that this is the same period when influenza is usually at its highest rate of infection. Not only Oregon but many other U.S. states have put in place new precautions, as have much of Europe and Asia, as winter falls over the Northern Hemisphere.
Hospitals are already short-staffed, and ICU beds are full. Refrigerated trucks are parked near hospitals in case a morgue experiences overflow traffic. To date, the State of Oregon has 76,654 total cases and 936 deaths. Benton County has 818 cases and seven deaths.
By: John M. Burt