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Goveronor Closes Schools; Bans Large Gatherings

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

More steps to slow spread of coronavirus

Gov. Kate Brown speaks during a press conference with state and local government officials Thursday in Portland to talk about coronavirus plans and protocols in the state. (AP Photo)

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Thursday evening announced a statewide closure of K-12 schools starting Monday, March 16 and until Tuesday, March 31. It's the latest attempt to slow and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It means a two week spring vacation for Portland Public Schools and other school districts.

The governor’s statement reads:

“Schools are critical institutions that provide important services for all our students, but especially our most vulnerable, and during this crisis I have worked hard to ensure those critical services continue. So many of our families depend on school in order for parents to go to their jobs, and for students to access health care and receive nutrition assistance.”

“However, I have heard from superintendents, school board members, teachers, parents, and students that it has now become impossible to functionally operate schools due to workforce issues and student absences. Schools are experiencing critical shortages in staff, and superintendents are concerned for school personnel who are at elevated risk such as those over age 60 and those with underlying medical issues.

“I want to be very clear: sending Oregon children home will not stop the spread of the coronavirus. While children are home, when at all possible, they should not be in the care of older adults or those with underlying health issues that are most at-risk from COVID-19.

"This is a trying time for our community and I am reluctant to increase the burden on families who are already struggling to adapt to and stay healthy during this crisis. However, we are left with little choice in light of school districts’ staff capacity and operational concerns. I want to thank all of the teachers and school employees who have worked hard to keep our schools open until now. ”Oregon should prepare for thousands of cases of coronavirus, Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday as she announced a ban on all gatherings of more than 250 people statewide for four weeks to try to stop the spread.

Also Thursday, the Oregon Student Athletics Association (OSAA) cancelled the state boys and girls basketball tournament because of the coronavirus. The decision impacts Jefferson High School, the only school from Portland still left in the 5A tournament. Jefferson’s boys team was scheduled to play Thursday night.

Appearing at a news conference in Portland earlier Thursday morning, the governor said she and other state officials are also worried about testing capacity, which a health official put at around only 80 per day, and said “the federal government is the only one who can expand our testing capacity.”

There currently are 21 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Oregon, though there could be 150 to 250 cases that haven’t been diagnosed, and it could grow to over 75,000 cases by mid-May unless action is taken, state health officer and epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, on Thursday criticized the Trump administration for not responding to Brown’s plea for protective equipment for front-line medical workers.

“Not only has Oregon received none of that equipment, they haven’t even gotten a response. No plan, no urgency, no leadership,” Merkley tweeted.

“We find ourselves in an unprecedented public health crisis, a rapidly evolving global pandemic,” Brown said in Portland. “What is clear today is that we must take immediate action to stem the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus in our communities.”

In the small town of Lebanon, Oregon, staffers at a Veterans’ Home, wearing gowns, masks and other protective equipment, were caring for two residents in their 80s who are ill with coronavirus. The facility in west-central Oregon has 151 residents and 225 workers.

A strike team from the Oregon Health Authority arrived there Wednesday night and began collecting samples for COVID-19 testing beginning with “high-risk” individuals — those with any indication of respiratory illness, compromised immune systems or underlying conditions, the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs said Thursday.

The governor said all non-essential school-associated gatherings and group activities should be canceled — such as group parent meetings, field trips, and competitions. She recommended businesses implement an increased physical space between employees, limit travel, and stagger work schedules where possible.

Mass gatherings are defined as any event in a space in which a minimum of three feet (one meter) space between attendees cannot be maintained. Brown said that includes even weddings. If one is planned for fewer than 250 attendees, the elderly and those with health conditions should not go, she said.

“Coronavirus is in our communities, we should be prepared for thousands of cases in Oregon,” Brown said.

Washington’s governor on Wednesday banned gatherings of 250 or more people in the greater Seattle area due to COVID-19.

Brown wrote Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump’s point man on fighting the virus, on Wednesday to remind him of her March 3 request for 600,000 surgical masks, 400,000 N-95 respirators and other personal protective equipment.

“To date, we have received none of the requested PPE,” Brown wrote, also addressing the letter to leaders in Congress.

The University of Oregon announced Wednesday that classes this week would continue as scheduled, but all final exams next week will be conducted remotely and future classes would be taught online. Oregon State University announced that while campuses and facilities will remain open, final exams and activities will be delivered remotely where possible.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover within a few weeks.

--Associated Press contributed to this story

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