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Brown tightens COVID-19 restrictions as cases mount

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown initiated a two-week “pause” on social activities in five Oregon counties that have exceeded certain thresholds for recent COVID-19 cases, including Jackson County.

In effect from Nov. 11 to Nov. 25, the new restrictions apply to counties that have either had more than 200 cases of the illness per 100,000 people over a two-week period, or more than 60 cases for counties with fewer than 30,000 people.

For the week of Oct. 18-24, Jackson County Public Health reported 176 cases, followed by 245 Oct. 25-31, making for a total of 421 cases in two weeks. From Nov. 1-6, the county reported 326 new cases, according to data provided by public health officials.

Brown’s action replaces the former county watch list, originally instituted in July. Other counties impacted by the decision include Malheur, Umatilla, Marion and Multnomah, Brown said at a Friday press conference. Five other counties — Washington, Baker, Union, Clackamas and Linn — are “on the cusp” of exceeding the limits.

Under the guidelines, indoor visits to long-term care facilities will be temporarily halted, and indoor restaurants will be asked to reduce indoor dining capacity to 50 people, including staff, with individual table groups capped at six people. It also reduces all indoor recreation activities such as gyms, bowling alleys and museums to a 50-person capacity. Business officials in the affected counties will be mandated to ask that staff work from home “to the greatest extent possible,” Brown said. Indoor social gatherings will be limited to single households only, or a maximum of six people. For now, the new guidelines will not change current rules for faith-based gatherings.

Brown described the new guidelines as a first step in an effort to slow the virus’s recent spread.

“Let me be very clear. For this two-week pause, please, please, please limit your social interactions to your own household,” Brown said. “For those of you who have scheduled events with other people for the coming weekend, please cancel them. We need your help. From the outset, our goal has been to save lives and avoid overwhelming our health care systems. When people become ill we need to ensure there are enough hospital beds, (personal protective equipment), and staff to provide much-needed life-saving care. If we don’t start to see the spread of COVID-19 slow in our communities, we will be well on our way to maxing out hospital bed capacity.”

On Thursday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 805 new cases — a daily record for the state — and five more deaths from the illness. On Friday, the agency reported 770 new cases, the second-most number of cases in a day, and six more deaths, pushing the state’s death toll to 716.

“This series of measures is intended to curb human contact, both through reducing the sheer number of people we interact with, and the frequency of those encounters,” Brown said.

Jackson County Public Health reported 84 cases Friday, a new daily record for the county. Of the 2,198 cases reported in Jackson County since the pandemic began, 454 were still considered infectious Friday. So far 144 people here have been hospitalized, and eight people have died from the illness.

Many of the county’s recent cases stem from social gatherings, mirroring the trend seen across Oregon.

“It is time for each of us to do some soul searching concerning our personal behaviors which put others at risk,” said Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County medical director.

Local health officials provided two recent examples of such gatherings to show how the virus spreads, including a church event that drew out-of-area attendees who became infected and took the illness back to their community, and a multi-generational family who held a birthday party, which resulted in more than a dozen family members being infected.

“Those people then go about their daily routines, attending work that includes working with vulnerable populations at nursing homes in the valley, and sending kids to day care facilities,” public health officials said in a news release. “Soon you have outbreaks at these facilities. Some of those cases end up in the hospital, some are desperately ill, and at least one person has died from COVID-19.”

“When you attend a birthday party or a public gathering or hang out with friends at a bar, the consequences are often tragic, even if you don’t see the results yourself,” county health promotion program manager Tanya Phillips said. “We at public health do see those results. We can connect the dots from one infected person to others.”

Public health officials urge residents to wear face coverings in public, practice physical distancing and thoroughly wash hands frequently.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com.