One hundred seventy-six.
That’s the number of lives that Peter Graven, the top data scientist at Oregon Health & Science University, says Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is saving by shutting down indoor dining at restaurants and bars on April 30.
More than 700 hospitalizations for COVID-19 will also be prevented, Graven said at a press conference with Brown on Friday.
“As your governor, I chose to save lives,” said Brown.
That number depends on Oregonians heeding the warning from health experts and a Democratic governor that Oregon is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and is again in a high-risk scenario. Whether that will happen is uncertain: Hospitality lobbyists and elected officials, many of them Republicans, are coordinating opposition to new restrictions.
Oregon’s COVID cases are rising faster than any other state’s in the country. Over the past two weeks, Oregon’s cases increased 31%, a New York Times analysis shows. Oregon now has the 13th-highest case count for the past two weeks, after the state for much of the pandemic had among the lowest virus spread.
“We turned the virus back in the fall by reducing our activities,” Graven said at the press conference. “And because of it, we had one of the lowest case counts in the country. We already know this policy is effective when Oregonians put their minds to it. It will make all the difference.”
Graven says that indoor activities when you can’t wear a mask remain riskiest.
For weeks, Brown has been reluctant to address rising cases. She changed an existing framework multiple times to avoid a crackdown on bars and restaurants—even choosing not to shut down any county until the state had 300 COVID-19 hospitalizations. That was a threshold the state was not expected to meet just a few weeks ago.
But even as she has made a decision backed by the leading experts, Brown faces a political revolt—a clear indication how unpopular her decision is.
As KGW first reported, the restaurant industry and elected county officials jointly signed a letter opposing the shutdowns and calling for the governor to hand over authority to counties.
“Shutting down our restaurants and further depriving Oregonians of their right to make calculated community engagement risks when the virus continues to spread elsewhere will not result in success,” says the letter, jointly signed by, among others, Washington County Chair Kathryn Harrington and Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith, as well as the four other county commissioners in each of Portland’s suburban counties. “We can flip the script by removing state-mandated business restrictions on our communities while empowering our county health departments to uphold high expectations for ongoing health and safety measures as recommended by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].”
The letter also says that Oregon restaurants have had a good record of following health guidance. “It is no coincidence Oregon has not seen one instance of a super-spreader event tied to our hospitality industry.”
The letter fails to mention that 10 restaurants and bars are on the state’s list of active workplace outbreaks.