SALEM — As Gov. Kate Brown ramps up efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus, she worries about how her message is being received in rural Oregon.
“It doesn’t feel real in Eastern Oregon and we are struggling to communicate the importance of social distancing measures there,” Brown said Tuesday in answering a question during her daily conference call with journalists.
She talked with reporters hours before announcing that she was closing all the state’s schools through April 28.
Oregon has had 65 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — the official name of the new coronavirus. Most have occurred in Western Oregon, primarily in the Portland metro area and at a state-run veterans home in Linn County, but also as far south as Jackson County. Elsewhere, Deschutes County has had six cases; Umatilla, two; and Klamath, one. However, the totals change hour by hour as more test results are received.
Effective Tuesday, Brown had banned gatherings of more than 25 people and ordered restaurants, bars and similar establishments to end on-site dining and instead sell only for delivery or takeout, including drive-thru.
Brown said mayors and county commissioners in Eastern Oregon had urged her not to take that action, pointing out that many local residents — including the elderly and others particularly susceptible to coronavirus — depended on such restaurants for their daily meals and social interaction.
She acknowledged that the restrictions on events and business operations were causing significant social and economic hardships statewide. “In rural Oregon, it is particularly challenging,” she said.
The governor reiterated that the goal is reduce the opportunities for people to have contact with someone who is contagious with COVID-19. About 80% of those who contract COVID-19 will have mild symptoms, and some may have none, yet they still could transmit the disease onto others, according to Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority.
“Our fight against (COVID-19) has entered a stark new phase,” Allen said Tuesday in what was titled “An open letter to Oregon: You can stop coronavirus in Oregon.”
“If Oregon’s health care system is swamped by a sudden spike in cases, hospitals in communities across the state will not have enough beds and life-saving equipment, such as ventilators, to manage the crisis. Clinicians won’t be able to save everyone,” he wrote.
The number of Oregon cases has been doubling every 6.2 days. Allen said the restrictions imposed by Brown, along with the health precautions requested of all Oregonians, are necessary to slow the pace of infections. It’s what epidemiologists call “flattening the curve.”
That, Brown said, is why she decided to keep Oregonians from gathering in restaurants to eat, drink and socialize despite initially being hesitant.
“If we can slow the transmission and flatten the curve in Eastern Oregon, it will be a very good thing because we have very limited hospital capacity there,” she said. “And the other piece is, honestly we don’t have the personnel that we will need for a huge surge.”