SALEM, Ore. — Hospitals, dentists' offices and other health-care providers can resume attending to patients for non-urgent procedures on May 1, and Oregon is expecting “extremely large shipments” of protective masks and gowns, Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday.
However, health officials warned that Oregon, along with many other states, still lacks adequate testing capability to isolate and quash pockets of outbreaks of the coronavirus. Brown told reporters at a virtual news conference that around 8,000 tests are now being conducted weekly and that number will need to more than double.
“Testing is critical, and it's pretty clear we don't have enough, we need more,” Dr. Bruce Goldberg of the governor’s Medical Advisory Panel said. "We need to have robust contact tracing. And these are vital, vital pieces to allow us to continue to keep people safe and to start to approach some degree of normalcy.”
Brown's March 19 executive order cancelling all non-urgent, elective procedures — or postponing them to June 15 and beyond — applied to all facilities that used personal protective equipment, or PPE. It was aimed at ensuring a supply of masks and other PPE for those on the front-lines in diagnosing and treating COVID-19 patients.
But starting May 1, those facilities can resume such treatments so long as they minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission to patients and healthcare workers, maintain adequate hospital capacity in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases and demonstrate that they have enough PPE available for health care workers.
“We will be watching to make sure that staff on the front lines have access to the appropriate level of personal protective equipment, masks, gloves and gowns,” Brown said.
It was a first step in reopening Oregon. Many Republicans representing rural areas of Oregon have pushed for a reopening of the state. Senate GOP leader Herman Baertschiger, of Grants Pass, said Monday “we got to get back to work, we can’t stay in our homes forever.”
Christine Drazan, leader of the minority Republicans in the Oregon House of Representatives, said Thursday that rural hospitals, dentists, surgical centers and other medical providers “made a huge sacrifice when they had their doors closed to non-essential procedures.”
"While this is just a small step toward getting Oregon back to work, it is an important one,” Drazan said of Brown's move.
Hospitals and other facilities have been grievously hurt financially by the pullback. Healthcare workers are also among the highest workforce segment seeking unemployment befits in Oregon.
Becky Hultberg, president of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, said it is determining how hospitals can best meet the conditions outlined.
“Our patients need care and we are prepared to safely resume health care services," Hultberg said.
Oregon will soon be receiving a Battelle machine to clean masks, Brown said, but didn't have details immediately available.
Each machine from Battelle, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, is capable of decontaminating up to 80,000 masks per day, the company says on its web site.
She said N95 masks, crucial to ensure the safety of front-line medical workers and to prevent spread of the virus, are among shipments expected in the next week.
Meanwhile, the Legislature's Emergency Board allocated more than $30 million to provide relief to Oregonians impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and complement federal relief assistance.
The money will fund rental assistance, a worker relief fund, small business assistance and domestic violence housing support.
“Today, not as Republicans or Democrats but as Oregonians, we took a critically important step to support front-line workers, domestic abuse survivors, and small business owners,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland.
COVID-19 claimed five more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 83, the Oregon Health Authority reported Thursday.
The OHA also reported 68 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total of confirmed cases 2,127. Those who died all had underlying medical conditions.
They are a 94-year-old female in Multnomah County who tested positive on April 3 and died on April 22 at her residence; a 78-year-old man in Multnomah County who tested positive on March 30 and died on April 19 at his residence; an 87-year-old man in Multnomah County who tested positive on April 20 and died on April 22 at Providence Portland Medical Center; a 74-year-old man in Multnomah County, who tested positive on April 9 and died on April 21 at Adventist Medical Center; and a 70-year-old man in Clackamas County, who tested positive on April 1 and died on April 21 at Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center.
The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can be spread by those who appear healthy and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.