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Friday, January 22, 2021

Gov. Brown creates framework for reopening Oregon

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Geographic location and local situation to be considered

Oregon Governor Kate Brown outlined the necessary steps needed to gradually reopen the state’s economy Tuesday, saying she didn’t know when it would happen, because the coronavirus itself will control the timing.

She said geographic location will be part of the consideration for what areas of the state get opened up when. Local agencies, such as health departments, city and county governments are already working closely with their state counterparts to ensure that they have a coordinated plan that is responsive to local needs.

“We have to be cautious, or it will backfire,” Governor Brown said.

Reopening will be incremental, gradual, and based on data from scientists and epidemiologists.

In order to begin reopening communities, Oregon must first slow the growth of COVID-19, as well as acquire adequate personal protective equipment to protect health care workers and first responders. Once those prerequisites are met, Oregon can begin to reopen by:

  • Ramping up COVID-19 testing capacity in every region of Oregon
  • Developing robust contact tracing systems to track and contain COVID-19 cases
  • Establishing a quarantine and isolation program for new cases

Oregonians have largely followed Brown’s “Stay Home, Save Lives” guidance to only leave the house for essential trips, and the effort has worked, reducing disease transmissions an estimated 55 to 75 percent.

Projections show the number of cases flattening and then slowly decreasing by mid-May, said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, health officer for the Oregon Health Authority. Even so, he said, a specific date for reopening the economy is not in the offing right now.

The state will need enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect healthcare workers and first responders. PPE may also be needed for other industries to open back up, such as nail salons, Brown said.

The state is getting more PPE from donations, new production within Oregon, and purchasing on the open market, she said.

The state hopes to ramp up testing to about 15,000 a week, Sidelinger said, up from the 7,000 to 8,000 a week done now. As symptomatic people seeking tests drop off, that will allow for testing of asymptomatic people, who can transmit the virus. Labs report testing backlogs have been resolved.

A robust system for contact tracing, or reaching out to people with contacts with a known COVID-19 case and telling them to quarantine themselves, will help stop transmission.

Finally, effective quarantine is needed for those who have COVID-19, including strategies for those in congregate care settings and homeless populations, Brown said.

She will gather input on reopening from impacted industries, such as restaurants, retail, child care and hair and nail salons, and the health sector. It might include reopening with additional barriers like plexiglass dividers or requirements for additional PPE.

The reopening will go slower than anyone wants, Brown said, but it is necessary to save lives.

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