Kate Brown

Gov. Kate Brown wears a mask in May. Beginning July 15, masks will be required outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained, and indoor gatherings will be limited to 10 people.

Oregon’s COVID-19 infection rate is rising so fast that, unless checked, businesses may have to close again and reopening schools this fall could be jeopardized, top state officials said July 1.

“Today, Oregon, you have a choice,” Gov. Kate Brown said. “A choice only you can make. What happens next is up to you.”

The press conference in Salem with Brown and top state health officials came a day after the governor had extended her emergency declaration for 60 days, to Sept. 4.

The governor and health experts underlined the need for public help in reducing infections.

Brown issued an order June 29 that face coverings or masks be worn by anyone over the age of 12 in all public indoor space.

In the 100 days since she issued her order for people to stay home, Brown said COVID-19 cases had grown from 14 to more than 8,900, killing 208 people in the state through July 1. The pandemic has killed 127,000 in the United States, while the death toll worldwide has raced past 500,000 since the virus appeared in China at the very end of 2019.

About 20% of the new cases in Oregon have come in two weeks in June, and the numbers continue an inexorable rise.

“We are on track to hit a worst-case scenario,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state’s top infectious disease expert.

New cases have been on the rise for five straight weeks. But the worst may be yet to come.

Oregon could soon see 900 cases or more per day, according to state models. Daily hospital admissions could go from eight to 27 people per day.

If the current rate of spread increases exponentially, Oregon could see cases explode to 4,800 per day and 82 patients requiring hospital beds each day by the end of July.

“The trend is ominous,” Sidelinger said.

Brown said decisions on keeping businesses open and sending children into classrooms this fall were at stake in coming days. The state began a phased “reopening” of businesses and allowing larger gatherings on May 15.

Any business that does not enforce the mask rule would face investigation and could lose its business licenses and face other sanctions. Brown said she did not want law enforcement involved in any disputes and asked businesses and customers to be courteous to each other and “de-escalate” any dispute.

Though the state’s overall positive test rate of 4.3% is on the low end of the national scale, the virus is increasingly showing up in areas of Oregon that haven’t been hit hard before.

“We are seeing the fastest case growth in Central and Eastern Oregon counties, such as Deschutes, Malheur, Umatilla,” Sidelinger said.

The warnings in Oregon echoed those around the country as the coronavirus has spiked, especially in states such as Arizona, Texas and Florida that reopened businesses earlier than others.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, told Congress on June 30 that the country was “going in the wrong direction” in the fight against COVID-19.

More than 43,000 new coronavirus cases were reported July 1 across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with Oregon and seven other states hitting single-day highs in infections.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said COVID-19 has killed over 6,000 people in the state. Los Angeles County alone has recorded 100,000 cases. The state ordered 19 counties where infections are rising rapidly to close all bars, shutter the indoor portion of many businesses, close movie theaters and limit beach parking.

New York City will not allow indoor dining this week, as originally planned, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced. He cited the nationwide upward trend of cases of the virus that debilitated the city in the spring.

Oregon will begin reporting clusters of virus infection cases in child care facilities. Willamette Week reported last week that a Lake Oswego child care center had eight children and 12 teachers testing positive.

Those younger than 50 are the fastest growing segment of the population to become infected with COVID-19. The death rate for those younger than 50 is less than 1%. However, they can spread the infection to more vulnerable populations.

The chances of death rise to 20% for those 75 and older. The New York Times reported last week that long-term care homes have accounted for 55% of the pandemic deaths in Oregon. The national average was 43%.

Sidelinger said, no matter how low, each case has an impact.

“We all have to remember that the numbers I speak about are people, our fellow Oregonians,” he said. “These are people who are sick, and tragically, some of them have died. These are people with families. These people are our neighbors.”

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