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Oregon announces ‘pause’ on social gatherings in 5 counties, increased pandemic restrictions

The Umbrella Man statue wears a mask in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Ore., Saturday, April 18, 2020.
The Umbrella Man statue wears a mask in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Ore., Saturday, April 18, 2020.

The Oregon Health Authority announced new COVID-19 restrictions Friday, following several weeks of unprecedented spread. They’re the strictest measures the Oregon government has created since the initial “stay home, save lives” measures were implemented in March.

Counties with exceptionally high COVID-19 rates will have a two-week “pause” placed on social gatherings, from Nov. 11 through Nov. 25. Businesses in those counties are encouraged to have employees work from home when possible, restaurants and bars are asked to limit dining to outdoor seating or take-out whenever possible, and businesses are asked to cap their total capacity at 50. Visits to long-term care facilities will be paused. People are also asked to limit their private gatherings, too.

For those two weeks, residents are asked to limit their interactions with other people to those within their household.

“But if people do choose to socialize with others outside of your household, limit your social activities to groups of no more than six,” said OHA public information officer Robb Cowie.

Cowie added that people are encouraged to shrink their social circles. If they meet with people outside of their household, they should meet infrequently and try to meet with the same people each time.

“The two-week pause is intended to be a wake-up call or a call to action,” said Cowie. OHA is sounding the alarm: The spread of COVID-19 could rapidly grow out of control.

The new restrictions come into effect once a county has a rate of 200 infections per 100,000 residents for two weeks or more. There are separate metrics for smaller, rural counties. Currently, five counties — Umatilla, Malheur, Marion, Jackson and Multnomah — have crossed the 200-case threshold and will be put under the increased restrictions.

Five other counties — Washington, Baker, Clackamas, Union and Linn — are also seeing cases rise at a rapid rate. OHA plans to reevaluate their numbers on Monday and says it’s likely some or all of those counties will also be added to the pause list.

A handful of other states announced new COVID-19 restrictions starting this week.

Rhode Island and Massachusetts have enacted curfews that forbid all non-essential travel after certain hours. Connecticut announced tighter restrictions on private gatherings and, although there is no curfew, they are encouraging residents to stay home after 10 p.m. Other states have announced new restrictions on bars and restaurants and strengthened mask mandates.

For the week of Oct. 26-Nov. 4, Oregon recorded 3,542 new cases of COVID-19. That’s the highest number yet. More concerning, it’s 34% higher than the previous week’s report. While weekly totals have been trending upward for over a month, this is the largest increase from one week to the next seen in recent months.

This story will be updated.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Erin Ross
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