A face mask. File photo: Chas Hundley

With climbing numbers of COVID-19 being recorded with no slowing down in sight, Oregon is walking toward the limits of hospital capacity in the Portland Metro area, a scenario public health officials have been trying to avoid since the first lockdown order in Oregon was enacted in March. 

“Last night, hospitals in the Portland metro reported they are at or over 90% of ICU capacity,” said Oregon Health Authority Public Health Director Rachael Banks during a press conference on Friday afternoon. 

According to Banks, the rise in case counts and staffing shortages are driving the capacity crunch. 

Health authorities warned that as colder weather moves in, so do people, holding gatherings in enclosed spaces, sharing air with friends and family outside of their immediate household, creating an environment that helps COVID-19 spread from person to person, leaving hospital bills, scarred lungs and health issues, and lost loved ones in its wake. 

In a last-ditch effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus before enacting strict measures that could have devastating effects for Oregon’s businesses and economy, Oregon Governor Kate Brown is once again pleading with Oregonians to heed the advice of health officials to stop the virus, and announced a “Two-Week Pause” for five counties, with five others — including Washington County — on the cusp of being added to the “Pause List,” possibly on Monday, November 9. This list and measures will replace the earlier version of the county watch list. 

“It is alarming that recent high case rates are not linked to any specific outbreaks, but rather reflective of sporadic community spread,” said Brown. “We are seeing in real time how this virus can quickly snowball out of control. This Two-Week Pause is a series of measures and recommendations intended to curb human contact — both through reducing the amount of people we interact with, and the frequency of those encounters. We must stop this virus from spreading. We must preserve our hospital capacity. And we must save lives.”

Malheur, Marion, Multnomah, Jackson, and Umatilla Counties are on the list, and their pause will begin November 11, lasting through November 25, the day before Thanksgiving. 

On Monday, the Oregon Health Authority will also look at the most recent COVID-19 data for Washington, Baker, Union, Clackamas, and Linn Counties to determine if any or all of those counties will also be put on the Pause List 

Counties with a positive case rate above 200 per 100,000 people over a two-week period, or more than 60 positive cases over a two-week period for counties with less than 30,000 people will be added to the list. 

For those counties on the list during those two weeks, businesses are asked to mandate work from home as much as possible, indoor visits at long-term care facilities will not be allowed, restaurant capacity will be reduced to 50 people, which includes staff and customers, for indoor dining with a maximum party size of six people. Take-out and outdoor dining will be encouraged. Other indoor activities, such as gyms, bowling alleys, and museums will also be limited to 50 people. Churches are not required to adhere to the measures. 

In-person social gatherings should be reduced, limited to one’s immediate household, Brown said, or to no more than six people if there are others not from the household present. 

“I am also calling on Congress to pass another COVID-19 relief package immediately when they return to DC—including another $600 weekly benefit in enhanced Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation—due to the increase of COVID-19 cases and the need for rollbacks both here in Oregon and nationwide,” Brown added.

Oregon added 770 new COVID-19 cases to the rolls on Friday, the OHA said, for a total amount of 48,608 confirmed and presumptive cases of the disease, with 6 more deaths bringing the death toll to 716 in the state.