Gov. Kate Brown Tells Oregonians to Stay Home but Doesn’t Issue Order

Grocery shopping, visits to the pharmacy and other critical business will still be allowed.

A shopper at Costco in Northeast Portland on March 20, 2020. (Wesley Lapointe)

Gov. Kate Brown tonight urged Oregonians to stay home to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But she stopped short of issuing a statewide order compelling them to do so, and was still negotiating with other elected leaders about where such an order would apply.

The negotiations among Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury appeared to continue even as they made a series of presentations at a joint press conference Friday night at the Portland State Office Building.

The result was a message at times confusing and conflicting, and that left important questions unanswered.

Wheeler promised he would issue some version of a shelter in place order for his city no later than Monday. "Absolutely," he said. But he held out hope Brown and Kafoury would embrace a joint order.

For now, Brown announced a policy called "Stay Home, Stay Healthy."

At the beginning of the press conference, the governor said it would be "an order and a public awareness campaign."

She laid the groundwork for asking Oregonians to make additional sacrifices.

"This is a very bitter pill to swallow," Brown said, acknowledging that stricter social distancing would represent a hardship for many.

But when asked about the "order" by a reporter, she backed off from the concept altogether. "At this point in time, I am not planning an additional statewide order or directive," she said.

Statewide orders to shelter in place have already been issued in California, Illinois and New York.

The orders require residents to stay at home unless they need to go out for food, gas or exercise. People employed by businesses deemed essential are allowed to commute to work.

Brown wants a similar policy for Oregon but stopped short of ordering it.

In recent days, disagreement has arisen among the three leaders about how best to encourage Oregonians to practice effective social distancing, which experts say is necessary to stop the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Wheeler has pushed the hardest to move toward the stricter social distancing that could be achieved through shelter in place. Kafoury and Brown have resisted taking that step.

"Aggressive social distancing works," Wheeler said tonight, citing the benefits of such policies around the world. "We're moving aggressively to stay ahead of the virus."

Kafoury urged everyone to stay close to home but noted people may go outside.

"Walking, jogging and cycling are all OK," Kafoury added, "but this is not the spring break any of us are expecting."

Medical groups, including the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, the Oregon Public Health Association, and Oregon Health & Science University, have called for officials to order Oregonians to shelter in place, the policy that the most aggressive states have adopted.

Business groups in Oregon have cautioned against such a policy and are pushing for one that would allow greater economic activity to continue.

For three days, Wheeler has stepped up pressure on Brown and Kafoury by drafting his own order, which would apply only in Portland.

Over those three days, Brown and her staff have repeatedly pointed to advice from public health officials that she need not enact a shelter in place order.

But today the Oregon Public Health Association argued for exactly that.

Related: Oregon Public Health Association Calls for Statewide Shelter in Place Policy

Wheeler also said this afternoon he would act with or without the governor and the county. He still stood by that course of action tonight, although he said he hoped other jurisdictions would join in the policy he plans to roll out on Monday.

Related: Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Plans to Move Forward "Soon" With Shelter in Place Order Regardless of Others' Hesitation

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