(The Center Square) – Gov. Kate Brown will allow Oregon to fully reopen if 70% of people in the state get at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The governor announced the news on Tuesday, promising Oregonians that rolling up their sleeves for COVID shots would mean an end to limited social gatherings, county risk tiers, and indoor capacity constraints. Oregon will have to wait on the CDC before it ends its social distancing or face mask rules, Brown said.
On Tuesday, the CDC's COVID Tracker showed that 36% of the state, or around 1.52 million Oregonians, are now fully vaccinated. Another 49% of the state, or 2.06 million Oregonians, are on their first dose. Should the latter group all show up for a second dose, 85% of Oregonians would be fully vaccinated.
Brown voiced confidence that the state could reach the 70% benchmark by the end of June. The percentage near what chief White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has described as herd immunity or the point at which diseases aren't transmitted as easily. There is no universal consensus among the scientific community on what percentage could limit the spread of COVID-19.
Rising case rates and hospitalizations in Oregon are keeping state health officials on edge. Weekly infection rates have seen double-digit gains over the past month, putting the state's 7-day rolling case average around 1,000 cases. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients statewide sat at 326 people, eight more than Monday. There are 78 COVID-19 patients in ICU beds.
The governor has stood by her decision to pull every Oregon county out of the state's most restrictive "Extreme Risk" tier on the presumption vaccination rates will keep climbing. The state's 7-day running average is 34,030 doses per day. Brown also shared her hopes that the FDA's recent approval of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for those ages 12 and older will help the state reach that 70% goal.
Starting May 21, Brown announced Tuesday, Oregon counties will be allowed to move themselves to "Lower Risk" if 65% of their residents aged 16 and older receive their first dose. They must also submit a plan by May 14 to close vaccination equity gaps OHA Director Patrick Allen reported are beginning to shift.
Oregonians of color, namely Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, see the sharpest increases in vaccinations across the board, Allen said. The OHA reports the two groups combined have seen gains of 17% over the past two weeks. Asian, Black, and Hispanic Oregonians saw increases of 15.1%, 9.2%, and 9.9% in that time compared to a 10% increase among white Oregonians.
Allen joined Brown at a virtual Tuesday news conference calling on Oregonians to get vaccinated as soon as possible. He also teased the idea of vaccination sites at Oregon schools to accelerate the state's vaccine rollout.
"The more people who choose to get vaccinated, the sooner we can all get back to seeing the people we love, doing the things we enjoy and returning to the normal ways we live our lives," Allen said.
OHA data shows Benton County has vaccinated 55% of its residents or the most of any Oregon county. Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties have each vaccinated more than 41% of their residents. Rural Umatilla County has vaccinated 24% or the least of any county in the state.
Effective Friday, 21 counties will remain in "High Risk" while seven others will sit at "Moderate Risk" and another eight counties "Lower Risk." As a result, all bars and restaurants will continue hosting indoor dining this weekend at 25% to 50% capacity.
When pressed by reporters on Tuesday, Brown would not commit to mandating schools offer in-person classes this fall as GOP lawmakers have proposed. All Oregon schools have offered some level of in-person instruction under Brown's orders since mid-April.
"It is my expectation that Oregon students will be back in the classroom full-time this fall," Brown said.
On Monday, the OHA reported three new deaths from the virus, raising Oregon's death toll to 2,533 people. The report came with word of 388 new cases, raising the state's total caseload to 191,774.