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Live updates: As Oregon reports slow decline in COVID-19 diagnoses, governor urges residents to do m

The Oregon Health Authority reported 259 confirmed and presumptive cases, spread across 24 of the state’s 36 counties. Marion County had the most — 55 cases, or more than one-fifth of the state’s total.

State officials announced two additional deaths from the virus, bringing Oregon’s total since the pandemic began to 414. Both died Wednesday and had underlying health conditions. One was a 79-year-old Lane County man who had tested positive July 24 and died at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center Riverbend. The other was a 96 year-old woman in Marion County who died at Salem Hospital after testing positive Aug. 11.

The Oregon Health Authority also announced additional testing capacity for the virus. Through an agreement between the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory and ThermoFisher, Oregon will be able to process an additional 20,000 tests per week on average, officials said.

“As we’ve said for months, without adequate testing, we cannot truly suppress the virus in our communities,” Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said in a written statement.

Oregon’s governor pleaded with Oregonians Friday to more rigidly follow state COVID-19 guidelines. Gov. Kate Brown warned that more stringent restrictions on businesses and travel could come next month if transmission rates don’t improve, and that in-class learning cannot resume until the state does better.

In a briefing that was at times stern and at times celebratory, the governor said that a large number of Oregonians are making the sacrifices asked of them and the spread of the coronavirus has been slowed.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Brown said. “We all want in-person education to reopen. To do that, we must meet our goals. Right now, on the course that we are on, it’s going to take too long. We are doing well, but we have to do it better, and we have to do it now.”

Brown said new COVID-19 diagnoses need to drop to 60 per day to allow schools to resume regular operations statewide.

The money’s all gone. Oregon has distributed nearly all the $500 emergency relief checks it had funding for, just three days after the program launched. Checks were to help people who have not been able to access unemployment benefits.

Oregonians stood in long lines starting Wednesday, and had claimed close to half of the $35 million allocated by the end of just the second day of the program’s operation. By midday Friday, the funds had been nearly depleted. State officials said people who scheduled appointments would still be considered, but no new appointments are available.

“These last couple days have put a spotlight on just how dire the need is all across the state,” House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said in a statement. “We have to get more money to help people. The federal government has the ability to make direct stimulus payments to Americans whose lives are in jeopardy and are not doing so. I find this incredibly frustrating and disappointing.”

These one-time payments were available through a number of banks and credit unions, but were restricted to people whose pre-tax income was less than $4,000 per month when they were working, and who are not presently receiving unemployment benefits.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state epidemiologist, said Friday that COVID-19 transmission in the state has been slowing since early July.

“The actions we’re taking are working at flattening the curve,” he said.

The state has updated its forecast for the coming month, Sidelinger said. He outlined three possible scenarios:

Oregon prisons are putting plans to restrict inmate phone calls on hold, after attorneys raised concerns about already-limited access to clients due to COVID-19.

This news emerged as the Oregon Department of Corrections also announced a third COVID-19 related death of an inmate in its custody. Officials with the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton provided some details about the deceased, including that the inmate was between 60 and 70 years old and he died at a local hospital. More than 200 people associated with the prison have tested positive for the virus — 193 inmates, and 19 employees.

Nationwide, jails and prisons have been the sites of numerous COVID-19 outbreaks, as corrections departments have been subject to multiple legal complaints about safety at its prisons. Some inmates have been released to ease crowding concerns, and in-person visits have been suspended to limit transmission.

Against that backdrop, Oregon’s Department of Corrections originally announced a rule, set to go into effect sometime this week, that would have required attorneys to prove their clients had a court deadline within 60 days to set up a free, confidential legal call at all correctional facilities in the state. Attorneys responded with outrage at any new policy that could limit contact with clients amid the coronavirus pandemic — prompting the state to step back from its plan to restrict calls, for now.

“After much discussion with DOC’s executive team, legal counsel and feedback from other key stakeholders, the department has made the decision to not implement the AIC [adult in custody] communication rule during the COVID-19 health crisis,” said Jennifer Black, the Oregon Department of Corrections’ communications manager.

Health officials in Clark County, Washington, reported Friday that another seven people tested positive for COVID-19, and none died. Since the start of the pandemic, 2,385 people have been diagnosed with the virus in the county, and 45 have died.

Statewide, Washington has confirmed 69,779 COVID-19 diagnoses, 1,850 deaths and 6,469 hospitalizations linked to the virus, according to the latest figures available.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Courtney Sherwood
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