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In response to rising COVID-19 cases statewide, Gov. Kate Brown has issued a two-week freeze across the state.

Starting Wednesday, Nov. 18, the state will enter a two-week freeze on social gatherings and certain business operations to curb the spread of the disease, Brown announced in a press conference Friday. Certain counties, like Multnomah, will be frozen longer. In Multnomah’s case it will be frozen for at least four weeks, and Brown said the freeze may be extended for other areas as well.

The freeze comes one week after Brown announced a two-week pause on social activities in counties with high rates of cases.

“Unfortunately, since then we’ve seen an alarming spike in both cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations,” Brown said. “Today we top over 1,000 cases again.”

On Thursday, Nov. 12, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported the highest one-day case count since the pandemic began, reporting 1,122 cases. On Friday the OHA announced 1,071 new cases.

“The dreaded winter surge is here,” Brown said.

The freeze is intended to reduce transmission of the virus and prevent more people from needing hospital services, which are at or nearing capacity in metropolitan areas, she said.

“This isn’t just about COVID-19 patients,” Brown said. “The next time you need urgent care, the last thing you want to hear is the ambulance has nowhere to go.”

What it means

The key differences between this freeze and the stay-at-home order issued in March are that parks and playgrounds will remain open, personal services (like physical therapy and medical spas) will remain open under strict guidelines and schools that continue to meet the metrics required to open will be allowed to stay open.

Business:

- Work-from-home to the greatest extent possible

- Restaurants and bars are delivery and take-out only

- Grocery stores and pharmacies are limited to 75% capacity and should encourage curbside pick up

- Retail stores and malls (both indoor and outdoor) are limited to 75% capacity and should encourage curbside pick up

Social gatherings:

- Limited to no more than six people total, from no more than two households (indoor and outdoor gatherings)

- Faith-based organizations are limited to 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors

- No indoor visitation in long-term care facilities

Must close:

- Gyms and fitness centers

- Indoor recreation facilities, museums, indoor and outdoor entertainment activities

- Sports courts, indoor and outdoor pools, gardens

- Aquariums, zoos, venues that host or facilitate indoor or outdoor events

The two-week period includes Thanksgiving, and people are asked to modify their Thanksgiving plans to follow the new restrictions, which permit gatherings of only six people from two households total, Brown said.

In a departure from earlier restrictions, Brown said she has instructed the Oregon State Police to collaborate with local law police departments to enforce the gathering limitations. She said it is up to the officers’ discretion, but a violation is a Class C misdemeanor, which can carry a fine of up to $1,250 and 30 days in jail.

“We have not previously chosen to engage law enforcement, but at this point in time unfortunately we have no other choice,” she said.

By the numbers

The state saw 5,177 new cases last week, which State Health Officer Dean Sidelinger said is a 46% increase over the previous week’s record high count of just over 3,500 cases.

“COVID-19 is spreading at an escalating and alarming rate,” Sidelinger said. The percent of positive cases also jumped to a record high of 11.9%, he said.

From Monday to Friday, 26 new cases were reported in Columbia County and 30 people are considered currently infectious.

The root of the spread can be traced back to social gatherings in many cases, Sidelinger said. Large and small informal gatherings, like house parties or at-home hang outs spread the virus to households and workplaces at a rate that state health organizations are having trouble keeping up with.

Continued spread will cause a continued and increased strain on the state’s hospitals, he said.

“While it’s true that many recover quickly, some do not,” Sidelinger said. “Some will suffer for weeks, if not months; many will wind up in hospitals.”

Hospital capacity

The concern heading into the winter is that hospitals will not be able to keep up with the growing demand, as many have already neared capacity.

“We know that slightly less than 20% of these Oregonians diagnosed today will become ill enough to require hospitalization in the next two to three weeks. Some will die,” said Renee Edwards, chief medical officer at Oregon Health and Science University. “ As a state we are now on an exponential upward slope seen around the country and world.”

The surge of cases around the country means that Oregon will not be able to look toward other states to share staff and beds, Brown said.

“We’re asking everyone to take action now. It’s not too late to make a difference,” Brown said. “We can substantially reduce spread of the virus and flatten the curve.”

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