REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
Press Conference - August 21, 2020
August 21, 2020
Good morning and thank you for being here.
I’m joined by Pat Allen, Director of the Oregon Health Authority and Dr. Dean Sidelinger, our state epidemiologist.
Today we are going to provide an update on the latest analysis of how COVID-19 is spreading in Oregon and discuss an important choice we have to make now as a state.
Seven months ago today, on January 21, I established the incident management team to prepare for the possibility of the coronavirus coming to Oregon. This began a coordinated strategy between state and local leaders.
Five weeks later, we had our first case of COVID-19.
Since then more than 24,000 Oregonians have been infected with the virus and unfortunately over 400 Oregonians have died. Across the country more than 5 million Americans have been infected and over 170,000 have died.
When I issued Oregon’s Stay Home, Save Lives order, some folks said it was too rash. Others said it was too late.
When I decided to close restaurants and entertainment venues but keep construction or manufacturing open, some said this action was too much. Others said it was too little.
When we began reopening businesses, taking a county by county approach, some said it was too cautious. While others thought it was too risky.
And today, close to six months after our first case, some say my orders are too restrictive, that the virus isn’t dangerous or even that it’s a hoax.
And others say I haven’t done enough, that we should shut down the entire economy immediately, and start from scratch, regardless of the cost to people’s livelihoods.
The truth is, those commenting on the far ends of this debate, well… they are missing the point.
This has always been a balancing act. A tightrope that stretches and weaves between these two extremes. Where for each step, I follow the data. Where I listen to experts. Where I take each action carefully and gingerly, not knowing whether the balance will hold.
Today, Oregon has one of the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates in the country.
I want to thank every Oregonian, every business, every local elected official who has helped put us in this position.
We have slowed the spread of the virus.
Wearing masks. Limiting social gatherings. Enforcing health and safety rules in businesses.
These strategies do work.
Unfortunately, it’s still not enough.
Our infection rate is still too high to get all of our kids safely back in classrooms in most of our schools this fall.
To keep students, teachers, and staff safe in schools across the state, we need to see more rapid decline in case numbers. And we need to see it quickly.
There are basically two ways to do this.
One option: Local community leaders, county officials and businesses -- and all Oregonians -- can step up their efforts to implement and enforce our existing guidelines -- face coverings, physical distancing, sanitation, contact tracing, and compliance with isolation and quarantine.
The other option: We can implement further business restrictions and travel restrictions for people entering Oregon or returning from trips outside the state.
I believe -- and the data indicates -- that either one of these strategies will work.
Either one will drive down the spread of the virus more quickly. Either one gives us a fighting chance to open up in person instruction for K-12 education in much of the state later this fall.
But one path has a far greater cost than the other.
Closing businesses across the state, like we did with the Stay Home, Save Lives order, works to control the virus. But the economic cost is extraordinary.
Behind every business closure are real people who have lost jobs, lost income. Families pushed to the brink.
Each of these economic costs carries a public health consequence as well.
It may come in the form of skipped meals, late bills, added stress and increased tension at home. And too often: self-harm, domestic violence, or suicide.
Economic costs have real health consequences.
That’s why I have been so reluctant to order further business shut-downs.
We can wrestle this virus to the ground -- and set an example for the nation. I know that local leaders, businesses, and workers can step up and get the job done.
Earlier this week I challenged local elected officials and business leaders to step up their game.
I asked business leaders to take additional steps to ensure employee and customer safety. To reach 100% implementation of our health and safety protocols, making sure people are wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart.
Local officials need to conduct more business inspections in places like indoor entertainment venues and restaurant kitchens.
Community leaders need to make sure that as new cases are identified, we are connecting people with economic supports to help them stay home and quarantine--even when they have mild symptoms.
We have resources available so people can afford to stay home. We need to get that money and help out into the communities where it is needed.
Local officials need to get creative about enforcing rules against large social gatherings. Big house parties. Pool parties. And so forth. Too many cases over this summer have come from these social get-togethers.
I’m here to deliver a message to local elected officials, local community leaders, business leaders -- and to every Oregonian: Now is the time to step up further.
Many of you have stepped up and are doing incredible work complying with the guidelines and keeping people safe. Right now, I’m faced with a difficult choice.
We have stabilized at roughly 300 cases per day in Oregon. We need to get down to roughly 60 cases per day. And opening classrooms for in-class learning -- including childcare and K-12 -- is my priority.
If we cannot improve our trajectory over the rest of the month by increased compliance with already existing policies and guidelines, unfortunately I will need to add more restrictions.
When it comes to controlling the virus, we have the tools. We need you, we need everyone, to use them.
Before I wrap up, I want to share a few other brief updates:
First, Lincoln County had held back from applying to move to Phase 2 for some time while they addressed an early and large workplace and community outbreak. Their numbers are much improved, and we have notified them that they are likely to be in a position to move to Phase 2 by Labor Day if current trends hold.
Second, three weeks ago we moved Morrow County back to Phase 1 and moved Umatilla County back to Baseline, Stay at Home status. After a solid decline in case counts, today Umatilla will move to Phase 1. Morrow County and Malheur County remain in Phase 1.
Finally, yesterday we announced that we are taking Marion County and Wasco County off the County Watch List now that they have addressed the high rates of unexplained community spread in their counties. Local public health officials and their state counterparts worked hard to get this under control. They were successful.
Unfortunately, we have now added Jackson County to the County Watch List because they have seen an increase in unexplained community spread of the virus. State officials will work with local public health leaders to help the community get this under control.
I know how much each and every Oregonian has sacrificed over the past six months to protect your families and make our communities safer. Many of you struggled to pay your rent or had to lay off employees.
Many of you couldn't visit loved ones or give grandma that bear hug she loves so much. Many of you put in extra shifts to serve your communities as frontline workers.
Many of you will miss fall sports seasons or missed summer sports. And many parents have been balancing work and childcare.
We all want in-person education to reopen. To do that, we must meet our goals. Right now, on the course we're on, that's just going to take too long. We are doing well. But we have to do better. We have to work together. And we have to do it now.
Now I want to turn it over to Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen.