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After Month of Lockdown; Oregon Reduces Threat

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

Fewer COVID19 cases expected; but peak not yet here

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown speaks at a news conference on March 16 to announce a four-week ban on eat-in dining at bars and restaurants, due to COVID-19. The state is in its fourth week of lockdown. And now according to researchers at the University of Washington who developed a closely watched model, Oregon should have the fewest COVID-19 deaths per capita of any other state when the peak comes here. (AP photo)

(AP) — Oregon is in its fourth week of lockdown. With many businesses closed, as elsewhere around the United States, job losses are staggering.

Still, Oregon is one of only five states expected to have the fewest COVID-19 deaths per capita as the peak reaches each state, according to researchers at the University of Washington who developed a closely watched model.

Even so, Oregon’s leaders want the peak to be well past before reopening the economy.

“We need to see fewer and fewer cases of COVID-19,” Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, told reporters. She did not specify how many fewer cases there must be in order to “reopen Oregon,” saying that would be determined by experts and data. Oregon has at least 1,785 virus cases and 70 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally on Saturday morning.

Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s chief health officer, told The Associated Press that health officials want to see a sustained decline in both new cases and hospitalizations before recommending changes to mitigation measures.

Oregon is expected to have 0.1 deaths per 100,000 residents when the virus peaks late this month, according to the model. North Dakota, California, Utah and Arkansas also had or are expected to be at that low level. For Oregon, why that is may be a combination of factors including timing, travel patterns, demographics, and luck.

The West Coast was hit first when the pandemic that started in China reached U.S. shores. California and Washington state, which boast travel hubs with Asia, took the brunt.

“This travel from overseas, that probably impacted Oregon a little later than our neighboring states,” Sidelinger told AP.

He noted that West Coast states all imposed stay-home orders early but COVID-19 had more time to spread exponentially in Washington and California.

Although the data is incomplete because testing capacities were so weak and many cases went uncounted, it’s clear that Oregon had fewer than the other two states, said Sidelinger, who is also the state’s epidemiologist.

“They were already ahead of us in terms of the spread of the disease in their communities,” Sidelinger said. “So we had a little head start (in controlling the spread), even though we implemented at the same time. And I think that’s what’s helped us, together with Oregonians listening to the governor.”

Another factor that may have helped Oregon: The first deadly hot zone in America, in the Seattle area, was a nursing home whose residents were unlikely to travel far, said Rajiv Sharma, a professor at Portland State University who specializes in health economics and microeconomics.

“Think about if it had been college-age students who had been initially infected in Washington, then they travel quite frequently between Seattle and Portland, and are more likely to spread,” Sharma said.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who pushed Brown to order Oregon residents to remain home days before she acted, and who was set to independently shut down the city of 653,000 if she did not, said Saturday it’s too early to be complacent.

“We’re seeing that as a result of our early action Oregon isn’t seeing the level of devastation other states are seeing,” the Portland mayor said. “During this pandemic, adapting quickly and with flexibility will mean the difference of life and death.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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