SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday rising COVID-19 hospitalizations threaten to overwhelm doctors, and she is moving 15 counties into the extreme risk category, which imposes restrictions that include banning indoor restaurant dining.
Some of the state’s biggest cities, including Portland, Salem, Bend and Eugene, are in the counties that will be in the most dire category, effective Friday.
“If we don’t act now, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other health care providers in Oregon will be stretched to their limits treating severe cases of COVID-19,” Brown said in a statement.
The move comes, ironically, as the supply of vaccines is exceeding demand. “There are appointments available right now all across the state,” Brown said.
For instance, the public health director for Umatilla County, which was moved Tuesday from the moderate to the high-risk category, told state officials it can send last week’s vaccine allocation somewhere else and will likely do so again this week.
“Our demand level is dropping dramatically,” Public Health Director Joe Fiumara told the East Oregonian newspaper. The county has about 6,000 doses, and last week administered fewer than 500 doses as health department staff sat idly, waiting for people to come.
The level of vaccinations in the mostly rural county is far short of what health experts say is needed: According to Oregon Health Authority data, only about 19,000 people have been fully or partially vaccinated in the county where 78,000 people live.
The restaurant industry objected to Brown’s move. The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association has said the state lost more than 1,000 food service businesses in 2020, with 200 more permanently closed this year.
“The move by the governor’s office is tone deaf and offensive to tens of thousands of Oregonians working in restaurants and bars across our state attempting to pay their bills,” said Jason Brandt, president and CEO of the industry group.
Brown’s office said she is partnering with lawmakers to approve a $20 million small business emergency relief package to immediately support affected businesses in extreme risk counties through the commercial rent relief program.
“It’s great that we have more money in the hopper for our clobbered hospitality industry,” Brandt said. But he added: “The amounts that have been earmarked … has never been close to enough to make these small businesses whole.”
Brown is also increasing the outdoor capacity limits for bars, restaurants and other sectors from 50 to 100 people in extreme-risk counties, with physical distancing and other safety measures in place.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, whose city partially lies in Multnomah County, which was moved to extreme risk, urged people to use safety protocols to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
“The key to reopening our city is ending the pandemic,” Wheeler said.
The Oregon Health Authority says counties won’t be moved into extreme risk unless the peak daily number of beds occupied by COVID-19 patients from the previous seven days is at least 300, with a 15% increase over the previous seven days.
The Oregon Health Authority reported 740 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, with two new deaths.
The counties in the extreme risk category are: Baker, Clackamas, Columbia, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk and Wasco.
Updates to county risk levels next week will be announced May 4. Counties that improve their COVID-19 metrics will have the opportunity to move to a lower risk level.