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Due to a swell of COVID-19 cases in Oregon, Governor Kate Brown has moved 15 counties, including Multnomah and Clackamas, back under the state’s “extreme risk” COVID designation on Friday, April 30, triggering a complete shut down of indoor dining, limiting outdoor dining capacity to 100 people, and lowering capacity for gyms and entertainment venues.
The increase in restrictions, first announced earlier this week, follows a surge of new COVID cases, most of which are tied to a highly contagious and transmittable variant of the coronavirus. In a Friday press conference, Brown said that Oregon has recorded weekly COVID cases increasing by at least 20 percent for the past five weeks straight, leading the nation in infection rates, and hospitalizations have nearly doubled in the past week.
Oregon’s current “extreme risk” counties are expected to remain at that level for no more than three weeks, if the public adheres to the state’s guidelines. According to data and analysis by Peter Graven, lead data scientist at Oregon Health & Science University, following the state’s “extreme risk” restrictions will prevent 176 COVID deaths that would have otherwise occurred over the next four to five weeks.
“The good news is, when we pair these data together, it shows us that we have just three or four more weeks until we are in good shape,” Graven said during the Friday press conference. “That’s when cases will fall and our vaccine levels will be high enough that with basic preventative measures, the virus cannot effectively grow.”
That same data predicts that, based on current vaccination rates and health restrictions, vaccination efforts will outpace the growth of the contagious variants in the next two to three weeks.
“Following that trajectory, we should be able to lift restrictions statewide and come to a sense of normality by the end of June,” Brown said.
Currently, more than half of adult Oregonians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and an average of 35,000 doses are being administered per day.
As older populations are getting vaccinated, the “fourth wave” of cases has included more young people, with hospitalization rates of people age 18 to 34 increasing by almost 50 percent. Mariana Robins, a 15-year-old Oregonian who continues to suffer from long-haul COVID symptoms after contracting the virus in September 2020, spoke during the press conference.
“Even though I’m slowly getting better and getting back to a normal high school life, post-COVID is still affecting me,” Robins said. “It’s made it harder to learn and remember things that I used to know pre-COVID.”
Robins, an avid reader, expressed her frustration at not being able to read a paragraph without getting tired, adding that she has daily migraines and is afraid to walk around her house because she occasionally passes out without warning.
Even with the new variant impacting young people more severely, Brown said she will not make any adjustments to her school reopening plan.
“What we know now is that the risk of transmission is low, if folks follow these safety protocols,” Brown said. “It’s critically important for our kids to be back in the classroom, learning from their teacher and their peers.”
Brown urged Oregonians 16 and older to get the vaccine. Notably, Robins is 15 years old and currently ineligible for the vaccine. State epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said he hopes Oregonians ages 12 to 16 will be made eligible for the vaccine “soon,” but provided no further details.
Governor Brown recognized the economic hardship businesses are facing as a result of the “extreme risk” restrictions, and is partnering with the Oregon Legislature to provide a $20 million emergency relief package to aid businesses in “extreme risk counties.”