Mass gatherings banned in Oregon under governor’s order

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon should prepare for thousands of cases of coronavirus, Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday as she announced a ban on all gatherings of more than 250 people statewide for four weeks to try to stop the spread.

“We find ourselves in an unprecedented public health crisis, a rapidly evolving global pandemic,” Brown told a press conference in Portland. “What is clear today is that we must take immediate action to stem the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus in our communities.”

A gathering is defined as any event in a space in which a minimum of three feet (one meter) cannot be maintained, the order issued late Wednesday specified. Brown said that includes even weddings. If one is planned for fewer than 250 attendees, the elderly and those with health conditions should not go, she said.

Also late Wednesday, the Oregon Health Authority reported two men in their 80s at the Oregon Veterans’ Home in Lebanon have become infected with COVID-19, with the statewide total being 21.

A strike team from the Oregon Health Authority has deployed to the home, where they are assessing infection control, the facility said on Facebook. The team will collect samples for COVID-19 testing of all residents and care providers.

The facility in west-central Oregon has 151 residents and 225 workers, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said at the news conference.

Brown said all non-essential school-associated gatherings and group activities should be canceled — such as group parent meetings, field trips, and competitions. She recommended businesses implement an increased physical space between employees, limit travel, and stagger work schedules where possible.

“Coronavirus is in our communities, we should be prepared for thousands of cases in Oregon,” Brown said at the news conference.

Other regions have ordered different limits on events because of the COVID-19 crisis. Santa Clara County in California, for example, banned events with more than 1,000 attendees, while a ban in three counties in the Seattle metro area applies to gatherings of over 250 people.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover within a few weeks.

Brown wrote Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump’s point man on fighting the virus, on Wednesday to remind him of her March 3 request for 600,000 surgical masks, 400,000 N-95 respirators and other personal protective equipment.

“To date, we have received none of the requested PPE,” Brown wrote, also addressing the letter to leaders in Congress.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, criticized the lack of response.

“Not only has Oregon received none of that equipment, they haven’t even gotten a response. No plan, no urgency, no leadership,” Merkley said Thursday on Twitter.

The University of Oregon announced Wednesday that classes this week would continue as scheduled, but all final exams next week will be conducted remotely and future classes would be taught online. Oregon State University announced that while campuses and facilities will remain open, final exams and activities will be delivered remotely where possible. Where remote teaching and other activities is not possible, maximum social distancing measures will be utilized.

Portland State University in Multnomah County, where one case was reported on Tuesday, is recommending classes be held online when possible, including for final exams next week, but is stopping short of closing.