No school reopening until significant coronavirus drop, governor says

A temporary school marking on Old Wilson River Road in Gales Creek. Photo: Chas Hundley

Until the state sees a rapid decline in the spread of COVID-19, students won’t see the inside of a classroom, Oregon Governor Kate Brown said during a Friday morning press conference. 

According to the Oregon Health Authority, the rates of infection and test positivity have more or less been flattened; however, the most recent OHA update shows that 5.4% of COVID-19 tests are positive in Oregon.

“Our infection rate is still too high to get all of our kids safely back into the classrooms and most of our schools this fall,” Brown said. “To keep students, teachers and staff safe in our schools across the state, we need to see a much more rapid decline in case numbers and we need to see it quickly.” 

The state is seeing an infection rate of approximately 50 per 100,000 residents. 

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Brown had previously announced that test positivity must be at 5% or lower with 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents. 

If the coronavirus were kept at the current rate of transmission, Brown said, it could be more than 200 days, or into April 2021, before schools would meet state metrics to be able to shift to in-person education plans. 

Brown outlined two tracks that the state could take to drive COVID-19 cases down; one would see certain businesses shuttered or curtailed in their activities and travel restrictions placed on visitors into the state and on residents returning to Oregon after out of state stays; the other would be for local officials, businesses, and residents to take COVID-19 related measures more seriously, for community leaders to lead by example and to crack down on violations with more education and enforcement, Brown said, the latter being a step the state has been reluctant to take. 

In a press conference held July 13, Brown had said she would not become the “party police,” but Brown’s tone has shifted, and the governor now expects local jurisdictions to become just that: the party police. 

“Local officials need to get creative about enforcing rules against large social gatherings, big house parties, pool parties, and so forth. Too many cases over the summer have come from these informal social get-togethers,” Brown said. 

If local efforts across the state don’t work to reduce the spread of the coronavirus at a quick pace, Brown warned more restrictions could be coming, though no firm timeline was given, and state officials avoided setting a deadline for when numbers would need to be reduced to avoid further restrictions. 

“I’m here to deliver a message to local elected officials, local community leaders and business leaders, and to every single Oregonian. Now is the time to step up even further.”

Chas Hundley is the editor of the Banks Post and sister news publications the Gales Creek Journal and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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