Media Room

REMARKS AS PREPARED

Governor Kate Brown
Coronavirus Press Conference: Statewide Testing Strategy and OHSU Announcement
May 1, 2020

Good morning everyone.

Thank you all for being here. In March, I issued Oregon’s Stay Home, Save Lives Order. I know it was just 6 weeks ago, but it feels much longer than that.  

Oregonians have taken extraordinary actions to keep each other safe during this pandemic. We’ve all felt the difficult repercussions of those actions — some much more than others, particularly in our underserved communities.

As we look to reopen Oregon, it’s critical we use science and data to ensure we can safely take steps forward. Public health experts agree that there are key steps to safely reopening. At the top of that list is a thorough strategy to test, trace and isolate the virus.

We must understand the prevalence of the disease in Oregon. Testing and tracing serve two purposes: first, to diagnose those who are sick. And second, to see where the virus may be hiding.

Joining me to go over these details is Dr. Danny Jacobs, President of Oregon Health & Science University, Dr. David Bangsberg, Dean of the School of Public Health at OHSU and Portland State University, and Dr. Dean Sidelinger of the Oregon Health Authority. 

Oregon’s testing strategy for reopening has three goals: 

First, testing should be available for any Oregonian showing symptoms of the coronavirus. If you are displaying known signs of the virus, you should be able to be tested. Period.

Second, testing must be available for individuals in vulnerable group living situations where COVID-19 is suspected, such as our nursing homes, prisons, and farmworker housing.

Third, we need ongoing, widespread randomized testing to know where the disease may be hiding in our state, and to monitor the disease with our at-risk populations, such as our communities of color and tribes. 

To accomplish the first two, we must ensure Oregon has the right kind of testing in every region of the state. 

At a meeting I held earlier this week the CEOs of Oregon’s hospital systems — including Providence, Legacy, Kaiser, Asante, St. Charles and OHSU— agreed to a unified approach for managing testing across Oregon. In this approach, testing capacity will be managed not as 6 separate hospitals, but as one statewide system that will allocate resources to meet the state’s needs in every region. 

This will include building testing partnerships with smaller hospitals in rural parts of the state. When this partnership is fully implemented, I believe we will have sufficient capacity to meet these first two testing objectives.

B​ut, in order to reopen and hopefully stay open, we must have randomized, widespread testing across the entire state. To that end, I am so pleased today to announce a major new partnership with OHSU to conduct this widespread testing throughout Oregon. This program is a game changer. It will give us a more accurate understanding of the true rate of infection in Oregon and to have ongoing precision monitoring of any new outbreaks.

The program is called “Be the Key.” A random sample of Oregonians will be invited to voluntarily participate. Ultimately the program will enroll 100 thousand volunteers. If you are one of those invited to participate, I ask you to heed the call. We are all in this together, and together we can be the key to beating this disease. I will let OHSU speak to the particulars, but this tool is a critical piece in the puzzle of Oregon’s testing strategy going forward.

In addition to testing, we have to let people know if they’ve been unknowingly exposed to the virus — this is called contact tracing. We contact trace in order to contain the disease from spreading quickly and widely. Our public health professionals are trained to do this. We will be staffing up to cover every region of the state. 

Our goal is to train at least 600 people, including community health workers, to build out this statewide team of professionals. This team will know how to listen, and will be bilingual and bicultural so they can understand the people they are talking to -- people who may be worried or scared that they’ve been exposed to COVID-19. 

We know tribes and communities of color are especially vulnerable to the virus, and we will make sure we have the contact tracing capacity to engage with these Oregonians in culturally-specific ways.

These workers will provide people who have been exposed to the disease with information and support to understand their risk, and what they should do to isolate themselves from others, even if they don’t themselves feel ill.  

With this overarching strategy of testing and tracing in place, we will be able to safely begin the process of reopening Oregon. 

Make no mistake: physical distancing will remain a part of our daily lives until we have the security of a vaccine or treatment for this disease. 

I want to be clear that we will not be able to open Oregon quickly, or in one fell swoop. This process will happen more slowly than any of us would like. However, in certain parts of the state, we see almost zero cases and few hospitalizations. It is my hope that some counties or regions could have the ability to begin the process of reopening as soon as May 15th.

My team continues to work with counties across the state on the criteria for reopening.

This is progress. Thank you to all Oregonians for keeping each other safe, and for your patience as we look to the future.

With that, I will kick it to Dr. Dean Sidelinger to go over some more details of our statewide testing plan.​