SALEM — Oregon will restrict or close many businesses, curtail activities and put a six-person limit on gatherings, including Thanksgiving, under a statewide “Two-Week Freeze” starting Wednesday, Nov. 18, in an effort to stem rising COVID-19 infection rates
Gov. Kate Brown issued the mandates via executive order Friday, Nov. 13.
“These risk reduction measures are critical,” Brown said.
The executive order comes as Oregon reported 1,076 new cases, including 10 in Union County and a day after a record-smashing 1,122 cases statewide. The Oregon Health Authority also reported seven more deaths, raising the state’s death toll to 753.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is 303, the first time the state has breached the 300-patient mark since the pandemic crisis hit Oregon in February. Without a drop in infection rates, medical facilities will be strained beyond capacity.
“The last thing you want to hear is the ambulance has no place to go,” Brown said. “The dreaded winter surge is here.”
Despite enduring two previous spikes in the spring and late summer, the current rise may be more challenging.
“Like it or not, we might be facing the roughest days of the pandemic,” Brown said.
Brown said she was telling individual Oregonians to limit social events to six people and she had ordered the Oregon State Police to begin working with local law enforcement to limit social gatherings and use their discretion to enforce as citation, fine or arrest of a Class C Misdemeanor.
Brown had said earlier this summer that she would not be “the party police” and send officers to private gatherings to enforce limit. That’s no longer the policy, she said.
“Unfortunately, we have no other option,” Brown said.
Currently, one infected person is spreading the disease to 1.5 people. COVID-19 tests are coming back at a level of 11.9% positive. A rate above 5% indicates a rise in the number of people who will get ill.
For businesses, activities and groups that do not fall under the new restrictions, The Oregon Health Authority will issue additional guidance within the next week. Sectors without specific prohibitions or guidance must operate under previous directives.
Brown and the governors of California and Washington earlier on Friday issued identical travel advisories.
Travelers going out of state are urged to quarantine for 14 days upon their return home.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state’s top infectious disease expert, said decisions on public action “are not perfect” and that state officials know that ordering shutdowns or stay-at-home orders have their own negative impacts.
“That economic impact has a real impact on our health,” Sidelinger said. “People can’t tolerate that level of isolation for that long.”
Brown said Oregon and all states need new federal help to cushion the economic fallout and overstretched public resources used in the pandemic.
“It’s time for congress to just do it and stop talking about it,” Brown said.
Oregon is still experiencing less overall impact from the virus than other states. It had experienced 1,289 cases per 100,000 people — 45th among states, according to analysis on Friday by the New York Times. North Dakota tops the list with 7,953 cases per 100,000 people.
But in the past 7 days, the Times said Oregon had 20.5 cases per 100,000, moving it up to a rank of 42nd — higher than California and New York.
Oregon’s current rapid rise is already stretching hospital availability in the Portland area and showing strain elsewhere in the state.
Brown had already placed a two-week pause on social activities in nine counties, including Union and Baker counties, which began Wednesday. She said said adding additional counties was a future option.
Legacy Health, Oregon Health & Science University and Kaiser Permanente Northwest, all based in the Portland area, are delaying elective surgeries as hospital beds are filling. Check with your doctor or medical center for their status. Check with your doctor or medical center for their status.
Under the three-state plan announced Friday morning, “non-essential travel” should be cancelled or delayed.
The advisory defines essential travel as travel for work and study, critical infrastructure support, economic services and supply chains, health, immediate medical care, and safety and security.
Visitors entering or returning from the three states should minimize their exposure to others for 14 days after arriving from another state. In the case of the three states, the advisory would mean an Oregonian traveling to California or Washington should quarantine for 14 days on their arrival and then another 14 days upon return.
The governors of the three states reiterated early requests that residents not risk out-of-state travel for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“COVID-19 does not stop at state lines,” Brown said in a statement. “As hospitals across the West are stretched to capacity, we must take steps to ensure travelers are not bringing this disease home with them.”
The three-state advisory also recommends individuals limit their interactions to their immediate household.
The United States registered 150,000 cases on Thursday, a new record. Current hospitalizations for Covid-19 hit a new record of 67,096 on Thursday, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
California on Thursday became the second state to surpass one million cases. Texas is the other. Nationwide, nearly 10.7 million people have been infected and 243,387 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins Coranavirus Resource Center.
Worldwide, more than 53.1 million people have been infected and 1.31 million have died. the center said. As of Thursday’s report, an estimated 53,779 people have been infected in Oregon, with 746 deaths.
Pfizer-BioNTech announced this week that preliminary results of a vaccine under development had a 90% effective rate. Additional tests and reviews will be required, but the company hopes to start shipping vaccine by the end of the year. However, it likely will take several months for the vaccine to become widely available.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, writing in The Hill political website, said this week the vaccine development was good news, but there still were many hurdles to get it to people around the globe.
“If everything goes perfectly with this vaccine, there is still a Herculean vaccine distribution task that lies ahead,” Adalja wrote. “This vaccine, and several other candidates, are two-dose vaccines that require both doses for full effect.”
— Observer staff contributed to this report.