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Oregon pauses reopening as number of daily infections hits a high

Coronavirus protesters in Oregon
In May, people protest Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order shutting down much of the state’s economy to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
(Andrew Selsky / Associated Press)

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday evening that a noticeable increase in coronavirus infections was cause for concern and that she was putting all county applications for further reopening on hold for seven days.

The Oregon Health Authority reported 178 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday, marking the highest daily count in the state since the start of the pandemic.

“This is essentially a statewide ‘yellow light,’” Brown said in a statement. ”This one-week pause will give public health experts time to assess what factors are driving the spread of the virus and determine if we need to adjust our approach to reopening.”

Officials said the increased case number is partly due to the expansion of “widespread availability of testing, increased contact tracing, active monitoring of close contacts of cases” and recent workplace outbreaks.

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Thursday’s cases bring the new total number of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus in Oregon to 5,237. In addition, two more people have died from the disease, raising the state’s death toll to 171, the Oregon Health Authority reported.

The second-highest daily case count in the state, 146, was recorded Sunday.

The Oregon Supreme Court halts a rural judge’s order earlier in the day that had tossed out statewide coronavirus restrictions.

Brown’s office this week received four applications for reopening that are now on hold. Multnomah County’s application to enter Phase 1 and applications from Hood River, Marion and Polk counties to enter Phase 2 have been put on hold for one week.

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Oregon Health Authority officials were not surprised by the increase.

“As testing increases, we will find more cases that are out there,” agency director Patrick Allen said at a news conference Thursday. “Much of the testing going on is focused on higher-risk areas, like long-term care and high-density work environments.”

Last week more than 20,500 tests were conducted, according to state data.

Gavin Newsom said he will work with Oregon and Washington to develop a plan to reopen their economies and heal after the coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

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But testing isn’t the only reason for the uptick in cases, Allen said. “There is expanded contact tracing,” Allen said. “We have dedicated $11 million to counties, within the last two weeks, to support hiring of new contact tracers.”

Lastly, Allen said that, as counties have reopened, many entering Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, there are simply more cases of the coronavirus.

“As we expected, the number of cases [is] going up,” Allen said. “The question has always been, can we manage that in a way that doesn’t prevent the cases from going up but prevents it from overwhelming our systems.”

It is still too early, following the reopening of some Oregon counties, to determine how quickly the virus is spreading, Allen said.

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He reiterated that Oregonians should continue to practice physical distancing, wash their hands, cover their mouths when they cough and wear a mask in areas where it is difficult to maintain physical distance.


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