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'Pumping the brakes': Why health experts say Oregon's two-week pause has to work

Gov. Brown reiterated Tuesday that the “pause,” which will impact nine counties, is the state’s best hope at slowing the spread of the virus

PORTLAND, Ore. — On the eve of a mandatory two-week pause in social activity, one that also promises to place temporary restrictions on restaurants and nursing homes, Gov. Kate Brown issued yet another plea for Oregonians to take COVID precautions seriously.

“We all know that COVID-19 cases are surging across Oregon,” she said at a news conference Tuesday. “Over the weekend, we saw daily case rates near a thousand.”

The governor reiterated the “pause,” which will impact nine counties, is the state’s best hope at slowing the spread of the virus

It will go into effect Wednesday in Baker, Clackamas, Jackson, Malheur, Marion, Multnomah, Umatilla, Union and Washington counties, and it will expire the day before Thanksgiving.

RELATED: Oregon governor adds four counties to 2-week pause list

Under the pause, residents of those counties must:

  • Limit social gatherings to just the people in your household, or if you do include others, cap attendance at six. That group becomes your social circle for duration of the pause.
  • Cut restaurant capacity indoors to 50, including employees, doing the same at gyms, pools, and bowling alleys.
  • Stop visiting long term care facilities.

Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines Tuesday compared the pause to “pumping the brakes."

RELATED: Q&A: Why a 2-week pause is necessary in 9 Oregon counties

“The reason for the 14 days is that basically it means anyone who has been exposed to the coronavirus, which as we know is spreading quickly and the spread is accelerating ... within those 14 days if you stay home in your household, that's essentially like having everybody quarantine,” she said.

Dr. Vines added there are several reasons for pausing now. Infection rates are already rising, and winter hasn’t even officially begun. Wet, cold weather is pushing people indoors, and the holidays will only ramp up the urge to socialize.

Health experts admit, two weeks may not be enough to slow the spread.

“I don’t have a crystal ball. I cannot fully predict that,” said Dr. Chunhuei Chi, an epidemiologist with Oregon State University.

In an interview Tuesday, Dr. Chi noted the tactic of a two-week pause is common.

This week officials in Utah announced something similar, in conjunction with a statewide mask mandate.

Long-term, Dr. Chi wishes Oregon and the U.S. would take more cues from countries who have a better handle on the virus.

“I have friends in Canada [who] are complaining why their government … didn't set zero new cases as a goal, and I don't think any state government in the US would even dream about that,” he said. “And the gold standard has been provided by Taiwan. The country has 5.5 times Oregon's population. The total--this is total, not daily--total cases is only 581. And I have a joke, telling my Taiwanese friend that our Oregon daily case is more than the total cases they’ve ever had.”

Dr. Chi added officials should be doing more to help businesses stay open, safely. OSHA put out workplace rules this week, a move that should have happened months ago, he said.

“They need to do information dissemination and, sometimes, training. And on top of that, inspection or supervision,” he said. “They want to make sure businesses follow those strict hygiene safety guidelines. If not, they may face a forced temporary closure.”

RELATED: Oregon OSHA to implement new COVID-19 workplace standards