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Oregon will lift most restrictions when 70% of state has 1st COVID-19 vaccine dose

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday the endgame for the state’s county-by-county COVID-19 risk level restrictions, saying much of the economy can reopen statewide when 70% of eligible people 16 and older have received their first vaccine dose.

Brown said with more than half of adults in Oregon — two million people — partially vaccinated, it is time to begin “the next chapter of post-pandemic life.”

The reopening plan would mean, once the vaccination target is met, an end to the capacity limits on public activities that have defined life for the past year.

Gathering with people in groups, eating indoors in restaurants, attending services at a church, synagogue, or mosque in person would all be allowed.

Including, a reporter asked, the Pendleton Round-Up?

“I would fully expect that we would be able to let ’er buck, so to speak, in September,” Brown said.

It’s a reversal for both the state and the governor. While cases have fallen steeply this spring in most parts of the country, earlier this month, Oregon and Washington were hit with a fourth surge of cases and hospitalizations, prompting Brown to announce a one-week indoor dining shutdown in 15 counties.

“Our hospitalization rates have stabilized. Our infection rates are on a downward trajectory. And in the race between vaccines and variants, our efforts to vaccinate Oregonians are taking the lead,” Brown said in a written statement. “We still have some work to do to reach our 70% goal, but I am confident we can get there in June and return Oregon to a sense of normalcy.”

The rollout of Oregon’s reopening plan, and vaccination target, comes as rates of new vaccination have begun to slow nationwide. In Oregon, while there are some signs of a slowdown, the daily rate of first doses administered per capita is above the national average.

Brown said she believes the state can hit the 70% target in June; to date, 60% of eligible adults in Oregon have received at least their first dose, according to CDC data. President Joe Biden has said he wants 70% of adults nationwide to have their first by July 4.

Assuming a 25% drop in the growth of the vaccination rate statewide, Oregon would reach the 70% threshold by mid to late June, according to projections from the Oregon Health Authority.

The reopening plan comes with two significant caveats: The state will still require people to wear masks and maintain six feet of distance from others in some settings.

Brown said she is awaiting new guidance from the CDC before revising Oregon’s statewide mask mandate.

All other health and safety requirements for counties under the risk level framework that Oregon has used for months will be lifted, and counties will no longer be assigned risk levels.

For schools, Brown said in the coming months OHA will also be updating the state’s policy “to lift most restrictions based on CDC guidance” for the 2021-2022 school year.

Even before those risk levels go away entirely, starting May 21 counties can move to the lower risk category — which has the least restrictions on businesses and gatherings — if they meet several new criteria.

They have to reach 65% of people 16 and older with a first vaccine dose, and submit a plan to OHA on how they will “close the equity gaps in their vaccination efforts.” Benton and Hood River counties have just passed the threshold (65.5% and 65.1% respectively). Lincoln, Multnomah, Deschutes, and Washington counties all have over 60% of their eligible populations vaccinated.

The statewide vaccination target — 70% of adults — is well below the level of vaccination epidemiologists estimate would create “herd immunity,” depriving the COVID-19 virus of any opportunity to spread and protecting the unvaccinated and people with weaker immune systems.

Some experts now say herd immunity may no longer be a feasible goal in the United States.

OHA Director Patrick Allen said the state’s goal is to drive down “the worst outcomes” of COVID-19.

“At a vaccination rate well below herd immunity, we do begin to see significant benefits with reductions in hospitalizations, and reductions in deaths,” Allen said.

OHA says it will use CDC data — and not the vaccination data it collects and publishes from the state’s immunization registry — to measure progress toward the 70% target. State data currently shows 56.6% of eligible Oregonians vaccinated. The CDC data is more complete, according to OHA, because it includes vaccinations administered by the Veterans Administration and Indian Health Service.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting