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'I chose to save lives': Gov. Brown defends decision to move 15 counties to extreme risk

15 Oregon counties moved to the extreme risk category for COVID-19 on Friday, which bans indoor dining.
Credit: AP
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown visits the Marion County and Salem Health COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Salem, Ore. on Jan. 13, 2021.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown defended her decision to move 15 Oregon counties, including Multnomah and Clackamas counties, to the extreme risk level for COVID-19 during a Friday news conference.

The move bans indoor dining at restaurants and significantly reduces the number of people who can be inside gyms or indoor entertainment spaces.

"Oregon leads the nation for our rate of increase in cases over the last two weeks," Brown said. "In fact, this is the fifth straight week Oregon has recorded case increases of 20% or more."

Brown said she made the choice based on recent data and modeling.

"I was presented with data showing two paths Oregon could take," Brown said. "One in which we took no additional action and stood by while more people die from this disease, or another that required a temporary tightening of restrictions for certain counties but could save hundreds of lives and prevent as many as 450 hospitalizations over the next three weeks.

"As your governor, I chose to save lives."

The move to extreme risk frustrated small business owners and some county leaders. Dozens of county commissioners signed a letter asking Brown to back off the harsh new restrictions because it will harm businesses trying to stay afloat during the pandemic.

RELATED: Dozens of county leaders slam Gov. Brown for shutting down indoor dining

"I recognize that this puts many Oregon businesses and working families in a difficult place, so I’ve worked with the Legislature to secure $20 million in urgent relief for Oregon businesses impacted by extreme risk," Brown said. "We can get this aid quickly in the hands of our businesses."

KGW reporter Pat Dooris asked, "Why not leave the restaurants and businesses open for people to come in and just require the customers to prove that they’ve been vaccinated? It would encourage vaccination and leave the businesses alone?" 

Brown answered: "I think, what I would say, is that our vaccine distribution efforts, while fairly effective and efficient have not been as equitable as I would like. And we are working hard to close the vaccine gaps that exist amongst our communities of color. And we’ve made good progress in the last four weeks. However we still have a lot of vulnerable Oregonians that haven’t gotten a vaccine yet and as you are well aware Oregon has the fastest growing infection rate in the entire country.”

The governor's office and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) said there is so much virus in the state right now that shutting down indoor dining and limiting other indoor activities is the best approach.

"Upwards of 60% of cases are sporadic which means the answer is [we have] no idea where it came from. And that tends to be the case as we get into these peaks," said OHA director Patrick Allen earlier this week.

As of Friday, 334 Oregonians are hospitalized due to COVID-19.

Brown said the same scientific modeling she viewed before making her decision to move counties to extreme risk also showed that Oregon can get ahead of the COVID variants in the next few weeks based on current vaccination rates.

You can see some of the modeling from OHSU here. Among other things it forecasts 473 hospitalizations for Covid by May 22nd. 

"We should be able to lift restrictions statewide and return to a sense of normalcy by the end of June," Brown said.

"The sooner Oregonians get vaccinated, the more Oregonians get vaccinated, the sooner we can open our economy."

Oregon reports 990 new cases, 4 more deaths

OHA on Friday reported 990 new COVID cases in the state and four more deaths due to the virus. 

The state's death toll is now 2,495 people and the number of known cases in the state is now 184,812.

The new cases are in the following counties: Baker (2), Benton (22), Clackamas (99), Clatsop (3), Columbia (5), Coos (6), Crook (11), Curry (2), Deschutes (81), Douglas (7), Grant (12), Harney (1), Hood River (1), Jackson (56), Jefferson (12), Josephine (16), Klamath (78), Lake (2), Lane (88), Lincoln (8), Linn (51), Malheur (2), Marion (93), Morrow (1), Multnomah (178), Polk (13), Tillamook (6), Umatilla (9), Wallowa (4), Wasco (8), Washington (101) and Yamhill (12).


Oregon has now administered a total of 1,594,712 first and second doses of Pfizer, 1,292,815 first and second doses of Moderna and 94,533 single doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. 

As of Friday, 1,253,053 people have completed a COVID-19 vaccine series.

There are 1,819,329 people who have had at least one vaccine dose.

RELATED: 15 Oregon counties move to extreme COVID-19 risk

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