Oregon health officials said Tuesday the state will lift most COVID-19 restrictions when 70% of the state’s over-16 population has received a dose of the vaccine.
“We can truly begin taking steps forward, and into the next chapter of post-pandemic life,” Brown said during a press conference.
The plan directly ties the state’s virus restrictions to its vaccination rate, and falls in line with Brown’s previous goal to reopen the state’s economy by the end of June.
And for some counties, a reduction in restrictions could come even sooner than that. Starting May 21, counties with 65% of their adult populations vaccinated can move into the state’s lower-risk tier of virus restrictions, if they create a plan to fill equity gaps in vaccine distribution.
“These are really good indicators that we can safely reopen — begin the reopening of the economy — that we can protect our most vulnerable Oregonians and preserve adequate hospital bed capacity,” Brown said.
Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said the announcement marks a shift in the state’s pandemic response.
“For the first time since COVID-19 reached Oregon, we’ll know when we can retire most of the restrictions we’ve had to rely on to protect us during the time we’ve been most vulnerable to this novel virus," Allen said. “For the first time since the start of the pandemic, we’ll be able to say the virus no longer controls the timelines in our lives.”
Allen said the state is on track to meet the early-summer benchmark, if people continue choosing to get vaccinated.
As of Tuesday, right around 60% of the state’s adult population has received a dose of the vaccine. That’s about 430,000 more people who need to get first doses before the state reopens, according to Allen.
The current rate of vaccination could get the state across the threshold easily by mid-June, Allen said.
But health officials expect that rate of vaccinations to slow over the next several weeks: Most likely, the state’s vaccination rate will dip by about 10% and stay there, getting the state across the finish line the third week of June.
The seven-in-10 figure doesn’t get the state to herd immunity, which would completely stifle the virus, but will significantly reduce hospitalizations and deaths, Allen said.
“That’s really what we’re shooting for with this 70% statewide goal, is to get enough people vaccinated that while we’re still short of herd immunity, we’ve significantly driven down the worst outcomes of COVID-19,” Allen said.
Allen noted some counties are already well on their way to loosening restrictions earlier than that under the lower-risk framework.
Benton and Hood River counties, for example, have already vaccinated the 65% required to move those counties into lower-risk on May 21. Deschutes, Lincoln, Multnomah and Washington are on track to meet the May 21 timeline at their current rates, Allen said.
Clackamas, Clatsop, Lane, Polk and Tillamook counties have all vaccinated at least 55% of their 16-and-older population, and should be able to loosen restrictions based on the vaccine metrics before the rest of the state, according to Allen.
“These counties show that you can’t make assumptions about Oregonians, and every county can protect its residents by hitting a high vaccination rate, no matter its geographic location or partisan orientation,” Allen said.
Still, those counties will be required to develop a vaccine equity plan before moving to the lower-risk category. Allen said that plan will consider how the county will improve disparities in who’s getting vaccinated, like outreach, language and accessibility support and plans for vaccinating hard-to-reach employee groups and the homeless.
But restrictions will be even looser when the state hits that 70% rate.
“Once we cross that statewide goal — yes, that means no more county risk levels and a lifting of most restrictions, including capacity limits for venues and businesses and limits on group sizes,” Brown said. “Common sense safety measures, like wearing masks and physical distancing, may remain in effect, in line with CDC guidance.”
The governor said Tuesday she expects students to return to classrooms full-time in the fall — and that, with some modifications, organizers will likely be able to hold major events in the fall, like September’s Pendleton Roundup.
“I would fully expect that we will be able to ‘let’er buck,’ so to speak, in September,” Brown said.