Skyrocketing cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations could put Columbia County and 14 others in the state's highest risk classification, which would mean tighter public health and safety restrictions.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she will eliminate a warning period this week, potentially forcing counties which qualify for the Extreme Risk level of virus restrictions to close indoor dining and recreation by April 30.
On Tuesday, April 27, Brown was to announce decisions about moving counties with sharp increases in COVID-19 cases and more hospitalizations back to Extreme High risk. Follow developments at thechronicleonline.com.
The effort is to slow what experts have been calling the “fourth surge,” a statewide increase in COVID-19 cases that’s given the state the country’s second-most rapid spread in infections, according to Brown.
“Unfortunately today, that surge is here. Right now in the race between vaccines and variants, the variants are gaining ground, and are gaining the upper hand,” Brown said.
Health officials painted a dire picture of the state’s hospitals and expressed significant concerns about how continued increases in cases could overwhelm their facilities.
“I want to be clear that what is pressuring our capacity is not all COVID patients, but the increasing COVID numbers on top of the necessary care that we deliver every day,” said Dr. Renee Edwards, the chief medical officer at Oregon Health & Science University. “Our emergency departments are more than full, and we need your help.”
Edwards said the state’s hospitals have again begun meeting to consider activating surge plans and canceling some elective procedures to free up capacity.
Light at the end of the tunnel
During a April 23 news briefing, the governor also offered Oregonians an important light at the end of the tunnel: A projection that the state could see its economy fully reopened by the end of June.
"At this moment, we are moving backwards," Brown said. "Oregon needs to be moving forward. My goal is to get the state back on track to lift the restrictions this pandemic has forced upon us — I think we can get there by the start of summer, but we will all need to work together.
“I do think, with all of us working together, that we can get to a place where we lift most restrictions and fully reopen our economy no later than the end of June,” Brown said. “That’s the hill on the horizon. We can climb it together. How quickly we get there is up to each and every one of us.”
That reopening could resemble something close to “pre-pandemic life,” the governor said — though simple health measures like mask-wearing and social distancing in some settings could still be necessary.
But getting that point will require a high rate of COVID-19 vaccination across the state, according to Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen.
“We can safely reopen before summer if enough of us get vaccinated to protect ourselves and each other," Allen said. “It’s not enough to hit a target percentage of people who are vaccinated, we can’t leave any community behind.”
In here weekly newsletter, Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek said it is important to encourage everyone to get vaccinated.
“I understand that some people are still skeptical or afraid,” she said. “I celebrate the fact that almost 29% of Oregonians are fully vaccinated and nearly 43% are at least halfway there,” Kotek said. “To put the pandemic truly behind us and keep each other safe, these numbers need to keep going up. Young people who don’t think they’ll get sick need to get vaccinated, otherwise they just become carriers to more vulnerable people.
Kotek said everyone needs to continue to do their part to fight the virus.
“Get vaccinated. Wear a mask. Maintain social distancing. Stay hopeful,” Kotek said.
Columbia County expanded its mass vaccinations on Friday, April 23, at the OHSU Scappoose Clinic, at 51377 Southwest Old Portland Road Crossroads Plaza, Unit C, in Scappoose. Appointments are necessary and patience is requested. To reach the clinic, call 503-494-5455.
Follow daily pandemic updates at thechronicleonline.com, with in-depth reports in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.