Brown defends mask mandate as COVID cases spike locally, statewide


Oregon COVID-19 cases have steadily increased over the last five weeks and jumped 20% in the last two weeks heading into what’s likely to be the busiest holiday weekend of the year.

And while thousands watch explosions in the sky on Saturday, state health officials brace for a possible explosion in coronavirus cases over the next few weeks.

“We have a chance to protect ourselves and each other,” Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday during a virtual press conference to discuss her new statewide mandate requiring masks to be worn in any indoor public spaces. “The number of cases we see will be a reflection of our collective efforts as Oregonians.”

Brown announced the mask mandate on Monday to mixed reactions from Oregonians who have turned face coverings into a political line in the sand.

“Your actions will determine whether our businesses across the state can stay open and your actions will determine, frankly, whether we can open schools in the fall.”
– Gov. Kate Brown

Many see the maks requirements as an inconvenience and infringement upon their rights, but Brown said Oregonians themselves will determine the fate of the state’s economy and beyond.

“Your actions will determine whether our businesses across the state can stay open and your actions will determine, frankly, whether we can open schools in the fall,” she said.

Brown hasn’t ruled out shutting down Oregon again – taking into account hospitalizations, rates of infection, and the community spread of the disease.

Health officials who joined Brown said the numbers are showing something needed to be done to keep Oregon open and its residents healthy.

The Oregon Health Authority reported 281 new and presumptive cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, the highest one-day total since they started keeping track.

The jump brings the statewide total to 8,931; 208 Oregonians have died.

Cases are up 11% while testing is actually down 11% and Oregon State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger said the percentage of positive cases had jumped to 4.3%, the highest percentage since the end of April.

And, he said the virus is spreading quickly in more rural areas. In fact, he said some of the fastest growth has come from Deschutes County.

The OHA has reported 40 new cases in Deschutes County over the last 10 days. Four new cases reported Wednesday bring the county’s total to 183.

“We are concerned about the increase in cases over the past week,” said Jill Johnson, the county’s communicable disease program supervisor. “Many are related to social situations where people weren’t following recommendations for physical distancing and wearing masks.”

Seven new cases in Jefferson County bring its total to 118.

Also alarming to state health officials is the 332 confirmed cases in children age 10 or younger. That’s a 472% jump since the beginning of June.

The spike in those cases has Brown “obviously concerned with school right around the corner.”

The OHA’s weekly report now includes names and case counts for child care facilities that enroll 30 or more children and have five or more cases.

The report also will include the total number of facilities statewide—no matter how many children they enroll—that have five or more cases.

Additionally, the OHA reports that while early on COVID-19 appeared to target the elderly, more recently 75% of cases are in patients younger than 50-years-old.

“The science is really clear right now and people need to get on board with this collective effort,” Brown said. 

Wearing a mask alone won’t keep you from getting sick, but it can keep you from spreading an illness you might not know you have.

So if everyone wears a mask, everyone is safer, the health officials and governor said.

“It’s just common sense folks,” she said. “Your local coffee shop, your local brewpub, your favorite boutique will only stay open if you take precautions.”

Brown said she hoped business owners would stand firm in requiring masks, but didn’t expect the police to write tickets for violators.

She encouraged businesses call OSHA if they have trouble with patrons refusing to wear masks indoors.

I’m willing to bet Oregonians will want to frequent businesses where they feel safe,” she said.

Sidelinger said the trends in models they’re watching are “ominous” and show daily infections could rise to 900 per day with hospitalizations jumping to more than 80 per day.

“Our latest projections showed that we are on track to hit a worst-case scenario model that we had just two weeks ago,” Sidelinger said.

“We use the models for planning purposes, they’re not predictions,” he said. “The models show us where we are headed if we don’t act.”

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