(AP) – When the coronavirus pandemic hit the Pacific northwest states of Oregon and Washington, their governors were quick to respond with shutdowns. Now they will again impose new restrictions as infections and hospital stays reach alarming proportions.
Kate Brown, governor of Oregon, placed 15 counties, which include the state’s largest cities, in the state’s extreme risk category as of Friday. When Brown gave her order on Tuesday, she said rising COVID-19 hospital stays are threatening to overwhelm doctors.
“If we do not act now, doctors, nurses, hospitals and other health care providers in Oregon when treating severe cases of COVID-19 will reach their limits,” Brown said.
Washington governor Jay Inslee is expected to order new restrictions next week on several counties, including likely the largest in the state, that would force businesses and churches to reduce their indoor collection capacity from 50% to 25% .
Inslee will decide which counties need to be rolled back to Phase 2 of its reopening plan after evaluating the public health safety benchmark numbers. The King County’s director of public health, which includes Seattle, believes it will be included on Inslee’s behalf.
“We might as well prepare, not just wait,” Patty Hayes, director of public health – Seattle & King County, told King County Council on Tuesday.
Ironically, the steps come as the supply of vaccines exceeds demand in many places.
“Appointments are currently available across the state,” Brown said.
For example, the Northern Oregon Public Health Director, who was downgraded from moderate to high risk on Tuesday, told state officials that he could post last week’s vaccine allocation to another location and will likely do so again this week .
“Our demand is dropping dramatically,” Public Health Director Joe Fiumara told the Eastern Oregon newspaper. The county has about 6,000 doses and last week less than 500 administered, the staff from the Ministry of Health were sitting idle and out waited that people came to vaccinations.
The level of vaccination in the mostly rural county has lagged far behind what health experts believe is necessary: According to the Oregon Health Authority, only about 19,000 people were wholly or partially vaccinated in the county, which is home to 78,000 people.
The restaurant sector turned down Brown’s move. The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association said the state lost more than 1,000 food service companies in 2020 and that 200 more have closed permanently that year.
“The governor’s office move is numb and abusive to tens of thousands of Oregonians who work in restaurants and bars across our state trying to pay their bills,” said Jason Brandt, group president and CEO.
Brown’s office said it was working with state lawmakers to approve a $ 20 million emergency aid package for small businesses to provide immediate support to affected businesses in countries at extreme risk through the commercial rent relief program.
“It’s great that we have more money in the funnel for our overcrowded hotel industry,” said Brandt.
But he added, “The amounts that were earmarked … were never close enough to make these small businesses one whole.”
Brown, to ease the blow to businesses, is also increasing capacity limits for bars, restaurants and other outdoor sectors from 50 to 100 people in extreme risk countries, provided physical distancing and other security measures are in place.
Some of Oregon’s largest cities – including Portland, Salem, Bend, and Eugene – are in the counties that will be in the worst category as of Friday.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, whose city is partially in Multnomah County, which is at extreme risk, urged people to use safety protocols to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further.
“The key to reopening our city is ending the pandemic,” said Wheeler.
The Oregon Health Authority said counties will not be classified in the extreme risk category unless the daily maximum number of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients nationwide is at least 300, including a 15% increase in the last seven days. The state is now beyond that threshold, with the current daily high of 328 beds. Oregon’s population is more than 4.2 million.
Washington is also stepping back. In March, Inslee allowed restaurants and other indoor facilities across the state to operate at half capacity, 25%.
But like Oregon and other states, the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have steadily increased in the past few weeks.
As of Tuesday, King County had 229 new confirmed coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days and 5.5 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, the Seattle Times reported.
To avoid tighter restrictions, Washington counties must report fewer than 200 cases per 100,000 residents and fewer than five hospital stays.
As of Monday, the Washington Department of Health reported about 675 people hospitalized across the state due to COVID-19. This corresponds to an increase of more than 100 in two weeks. Washington has a population of more than 7.7 million.