Mar 25, 2020

Governor Kate Brown Oregon COVID-19 Briefing Transcript

Kate Brown Oregon Town Hall COVID 19
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsGovernor Kate Brown Oregon COVID-19 Briefing Transcript

Governor Kate Brown of Oregon held a town hall on March 25 for Oregon. She spoke about the efforts to combat coronavirus in the state. Read the full transcript here.

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Speaker 1: (00:01)
Welcome to the town hall meeting.

Governor Kate Brown: (00:04)
… those masks underneath them. So we need substantially more PPE. Right now, what is available is being prioritized for hot spots like New York, California and Washington, leaving a state like Oregon with few options. So here’s the deal. We have the ability to make more. Right here in Oregon, companies have the experience, the facilities and the equipment, to scale up manufacturing of PPE right now.

Governor Kate Brown: (00:35)
So the question is, what’s the barrier? And from our perspective, for what we’re seeing, it’s frankly the federal government. They could easily provide clear guidance from the FDA, the CDC, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to fast track the approval processes for the manufacturing of respiratory masks and surgical gowns. It’s also extremely alarming to hear that doctors and nurses feel like they need to reuse their PPE and risk their own health and safety. Or, some are resorting to makeshift PPE because it’s otherwise not available.

Governor Kate Brown: (01:14)
I’m incredibly grateful to the companies that have stepped up to help, but voluntary production will not fix this problem at this time. I want to be clear. If these resources were available on the commercial market, I would have bought them. What is unclear to me is why the federal administration refuses to direct industries to manufacture critical PPE. The federal government is not providing the correct specs and in turn, these companies don’t have liability for what they’re making, nor can we reliably use them for our healthcare workers.

Governor Kate Brown: (01:50)
I’m not exaggerating when I say this outrageous lack of action will result in lost lives, including those of our health care workers. And it’s completely unacceptable. I plan to call the Vice President today. And earlier this morning we sent a letter to him and Secretary Azar. I’ve spoken with all my fellow governors today. Everyone agrees. We’re all in the same boat and no one knows why.

Governor Kate Brown: (02:16)
A few other updates I’d like to share with you today. One, we received 4000 swabs from HHS at our state lab yesterday. I understand both Legacy and Kaiser are now processing tests in house as of today.

Governor Kate Brown: (02:35)
Following up on one of yesterday’s questions, Oregonians who believe their workplace is not complying with social distancing standards and as a result feel at risk may file a report with Oregon BOLI, Bureau of Labor and Industries. OSHA is also taking complaints of noncompliance from members of the public. Those complaints can be filed online or by phone to a local field office.

Governor Kate Brown: (03:02)
Another important message I would ask your help in getting out, is that the American Red Cross has an extremely short supply of blood and needs donations. When I talked to the president of the Red Cross last week, she said they only had supplies for a day and a half. I don’t know whether that has changed as of today. But to donate blood, please go to and put in your zip code. You can make an appointment. As you’re probably aware, there aren’t any blood drives now. But we still need blood. So please donate.

Governor Kate Brown: (03:36)
I’ve also called on HHS Secretary Azar to open a special enrollment period for Oregonians to buy health insurance and apply for federal subsidies through The open enrollment deadline passed on December 15th and doesn’t open again until November. As you are all aware, it is critically important that Oregonians who are uninsured or underinsured have access to a special enrollment period.

Governor Kate Brown: (04:05)
Yesterday, I received a detailed request from a number of members of the media including from the Oregon Society of Professional Journalists to improve report outs from the Oregon Health Authority. I have directed OHA to look closely at the request and share all COVID-19 information with the public that doesn’t compromise patient privacy. Today, OHA has already changed their reporting to include the following, age ranges by decade for all positive cases, previously there were larger ranges. Number two, hospitalization status of all positive cases if known. Number three, available hospital beds including available ICU beds and available ventilators. Today we have 2028 available non-ICU beds, 394 available ICU beds, and 608 available ventilators. And we’ll have more information coming soon on this.

Governor Kate Brown: (05:09)
We’re also hearing from our firefighters and first responders that it would be incredibly helpful if Oregonians tell 911 operators if they are at risk of transmitting COVID-19 when they call for help. That way our firefighters and paramedics can show up with the appropriate protective equipment when they respond. It will help them avoid the need for quarantine, which puts pressure on our medical system. I’ve heard from mayors on Sunday across the state that they were already gravely concerned about the number of public safety workers that have been impacted by COVID-19. So it’s really important that we preserve our public safety capacity as much as possible.

Governor Kate Brown: (05:55)
I also want to say thank you, thank you, thank you to all of our Oregonians who are working very, very hard to keep food on our shelves, to keep our electricity and utilities working, and of course, there are many other professions out there. Thank you to our truck drivers who are delivering groceries and medicine during this time. These are really difficult jobs, and we’re incredibly grateful.

Governor Kate Brown: (06:18)
I also want to say thank you to all the organizations and individuals who’ve donated PPE during this crisis. I was informed earlier this morning that the Oregon Dental Association’s PPE drive collected 60,000 masks and 600,000 gloves, gowns, and face shields, a total of seven pallets of donated equipment. I’d like to offer my heartfelt thanks to all Oregon dentists for donating this equipment, which our health care workers treating COVID-19 patients critically need.

Governor Kate Brown: (06:54)
As we face this unprecedented pandemic together, we have to continue to remove any potential barriers that Oregon families may face right now to keep their families safe and to protect their livelihoods. Thank you this morning. And with that, happy to turn it over for questions.

Speaker 2: (07:13)
Sorry folks. We’re just having a little bit of an Internet issue here. So I’m not able to see your questions. Hold on for just one second while we try to get back online. All right, thanks for bearing with us, folks. We are back online here. So we’re going to start with [Mila 00:07:29] from KGW. Go ahead Mila.

Mila: (07:34)
Hi. Thank you so much. Governor, there are reports that Nike and Intel here in Oregon are starting to jump in, possibly starting to make their own PPE. What can you say about these products getting out to Oregonians? Can we guarantee that these are going to stay in state, or will they be sent out nationally?

Governor Kate Brown: (07:53)
So I really appreciate the question. And I’m incredibly grateful for the creativity and innovation shown by a number of Oregon companies. As I said in my remarks, certainly the product that’s being produced can be used, but it does not meet FDA guidelines at this point. And it doesn’t provide for liability protections. That’s why it’s critically important that the federal government, that the Trump administration take action today. And my fellow governors and I are in concert on this. As I mentioned earlier, I’m going to be calling Vice President Pence. We sent a letter off. We’re happy to get you a copy of that letter. But, we need liability protections. And we need to make sure that the federal government takes action today.

Mila: (08:50)
Thank you. And just one really quick follow-up. Are you hearing of any specific complaints to BOLI or OSHA about workplace violations at this point to your executive orders?

Governor Kate Brown: (09:00)
Not at this time. Obviously, people are still asking …

Governor Kate Brown: (09:03)
Not at this time. Obviously people are still asking questions, but we are making sure that the information, when we’re needing your help to do this, we want to make sure the information gets out there so employees and business owners if they have questions can call the right folks.

Speaker 3: (09:21)
Thanks, Mila. And just a quick reminder for folks, I know some people were having trouble listening to the audio at the beginning. We can share the full audio from this call as well as written remarks if that’s helpful for you. We’ll go next to Karina Brown from Courthouse News. Go ahead, Karina.

Karina Brown: (09:40)
Yes, thank you. Thanks for taking my question. My question is about couples who are in longterm relationships but don’t live together. I’ve been hearing from a lot of people who regularly stay over at their partner’s home or vice versa and just hearing an assumption from a lot of people that the stay at home order does not apply to that situation. So I’m just wondering if you have any clarity on what the order means for that situation for people who want to see their significant other.

Governor Kate Brown: (10:12)
I will just say and I really appreciate the question, every family is in a different situation and the spirit of the executive order is to severely limit your social circles, so that’s all I’ll say about sleeping together at this point.

Speaker 3: (10:31)
Thanks, Karina. We’ll go next to one of our written questions. This one’s from Lauren Dake at OPB. Governor, when can we expect to see more specific demographic data of those who have contracted COVID-19 such as age ranges and genders? We are seeing evidence that coronavirus is also severely harming people under 52 but in Oregon we won’t be able to understand those trends without more transparency. Thank you.

Governor Kate Brown: (10:55)
Thanks, Lauren. I think I just went through the information that I got from the SPJ and the direction that I gave to the OHA. You should be able to get that information shortly, including ages, and limited to decades and genders.

Speaker 3: (11:22)
Great. And next we’ll go to Brenna from KPTV. Go ahead.

Brenna: (11:28)
Hi Governor, you mentioned yesterday the dilemma delaying state taxes would create. Can you talk more about exactly how much of a shortfall the state could be facing and the options the state might have to deal with the shortfall and your message to law makers for the emergency session.

Governor Kate Brown: (11:44)
So the Department of Revenue will be announcing the details of the extension later today. But we have agreed to allow extensions for personal filing until July 15th. And we are going to continue the deadlines for those making estimated payments. So we will use that same existing April 15th.

Governor Kate Brown: (12:16)
I will say in terms of the state’s financial situation, we are in what I’m calling a quadruple bind. We have substantially declining tax revenues. We’ll get an updated forecast mid-May. We are focused on providing what I would consider an unprecedented public health response to tackle the COVID-19 epidemic. We have enormous pressure on our public safety net, so we have obviously a lot of Oregonians because of COVID-19 who aren’t able to work. And so that’s obviously putting pressures on, particularly our most vulnerable Oregonians.

Governor Kate Brown: (13:03)
And unlike the federal government, we have to balance the budget. So I understand that we have to act as quickly as possible to address the most urgent needs of Oregonians and we’re working with legislative leadership to make that happen. The little silver lining in all of this is that my understanding is that the Senate has agreed on a federal package. We know it will bring at least $1.2 billion to Oregonians and to Oregon. A portion of that will be going to state and local governments and a portion will be going to both Oregonians individually and to small businesses. I don’t have the details yet. We will get those out as quickly as we can.

Speaker 3: (13:58)
Thanks, Brenna. We’ll go next to one of our written questions. This one is from Blair Stenvick with the Portland Mercury. Blair asks, I was wondering if you can provide any more clarification on if and how houseless Oregonians will be penalized for not being able to follow the stay at home order.

Governor Kate Brown: (14:14)
So look, I am, the purpose of the executive order is not to criminalize houselessness. And we are asking all local officials to follow that intent. Whether people are sheltered or unsheltered, we want them to be safe from COVID-19. We’re working closely with local organizations and our counties for example, to make sure that the service organizations can keep their workers safe and continue to serve some of our most vulnerable Oregonians.

Speaker 3: (14:50)
Great. Next we’ll go to Mike Rogoway with the Oregonian. Go ahead, Mike.

Mike Rogoway: (14:56)
Morning, Governor. Hey, we’re getting just an avalanche of concerns from workers who say, my job is just inherently not possible to keep six feet away from my colleagues or my customers, whether they’re in a factory or a construction site. What’s your advice to them and to companies? Is it safe? Should we still be operating manufacturing and construction under these circumstances?

Governor Kate Brown: (15:19)
So they should call BOLI, bureau of Labor and Industries and report their complaints.

Mike Rogoway: (15:28)

Governor Kate Brown: (15:28)
I have… your question is, is it safe? I have asked-

Mike Rogoway: (15:34)
Because for some jobs it’s just inherently not possible to…

Governor Kate Brown: (15:37)
Then those businesses should shut down.

Mike Rogoway: (15:40)
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay.

Mike Rogoway: (15:43)
And on the BOLI thing, is that new today? I [inaudible 00:15:47] your…

Governor Kate Brown: (15:48)
The OSHA web, OSHA has a website up. I believe that is new today. And I think BOLI is also taking information as well.

Mike Rogoway: (16:01)

Speaker 3: (16:03)
Next up we’ve gotten Dan from Coin. Go ahead, Dan.

Dan: (16:08)
Thank you, Governor. I want to get at the pushback to the stay at home orders you’re starting to hear from the president. But two doctors from Stanford University wrote an op ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that’s getting a lot of attention on social media. And the bottom line it says a universal quarantine may not be worth the cost it poses on the economy, community and individual mental and physical health. We should undertake immediate steps to evaluate the empirical basis of current lockdowns. Their article talks about flaws and how the threat of this virus has been calculated. Do you have a counter to that? Why should people stay on board with the stay at home orders when other people are saying the empirical data is flawed?

Governor Kate Brown: (16:56)
I got a modeling briefing yesterday and I believe that information will be available tomorrow to the public. I am the governor of Oregon and my job is to protect the health and lives of Oregonians. And one of the things I’m focused on is that we have to make sure that we have an ability to hospitalize those with COVID-19 and that we have to be able to provide beds. And so that is going to be a key indicator for me in determining how long I keep the order in place because it’s absolutely imperative that we control, that we do everything we can to slow the transmission and flatten the curve so that we preserve our hospital bed capacity for those that need it the most.

Speaker 3: (17:57)
Thanks, Dan.

Dan: (17:58)
So do you still, if I quickly can follow up, so you still believe the projections of a…

Dan: (18:03)
Quickly follow up, do you still believe the projections of a possible worst case scenario?

Governor Kate Brown: (18:07)
I have seen the updated modeling. I believe that we are on the best course to preserve the health and safety of Oregonians and you all will have that information tomorrow.

Speaker 4: (18:23)
Thanks Dan. We’ll go next to Jonathan Bach with the Portland Business Journal. Go ahead Jonathan.

Jonathan Bach: (18:30)
Hi Governor.

Governor Kate Brown: (18:30)

Jonathan Bach: (18:30)
Yesterday you noted that you were looking for a special purpose allocation in the neighborhood of 250 million. Could you break down that number a little bit? How did you arrive at that figure?

Governor Kate Brown: (18:47)
I think it was an agreed upon figure. My chief financial officer works with the legislative branches, legislative financial officer. We wanted to make sure that we had adequate resources to meet our agency needs over the next handful of months. And at that point in time we didn’t have a sense of what the federal package would look like. I know, for example [crosstalk 00:19:20].

Jonathan Bach: (19:20)
=paid for.

Governor Kate Brown: (19:20)
It’s going to pay for our COVID-19 response needs. I can get you some data, but I cannot break it down at this point in time. We wanted to be able to have a level of flexibility in that special purpose appropriation. It obviously needs to go through the e-board, so the public and all of you will have the information in terms of how it’s being spent. As an example, Mike Harryman, my chief resilience officer said he was able to purchase a million N-95 masks today. We want to make sure that we have the resources to be able to be able to purchase those supplies when we need them, if we’re able to get them.

Speaker 4: (20:06)
Thanks, Jonathan. We have about five more minutes left, so we’ll take a written question and then try to get through a few more people on the line. Cassandra at OPB asks, what evidence are you and other experts looking at to determine how fast the virus is spreading in Oregon? What kind of evidence would you look for to indicate that it has started to slow down?

Governor Kate Brown: (20:26)
Cassandra, a really good question. I am, as I just mentioned, we’re watching the modeling data really, really closely. I think the challenge is, as we are ramping up testing capacity and there’s roughly will be an additional 1000 tests per day over the next few days, we’re going to see obviously more COVID-19 positive tests. But for me the indicator, we know roughly that of the COVID-19 folks who are positive, roughly, these are very rough numbers. About 20% of those require hospitalization and about a quarter of those require a higher level of intensive care.

Governor Kate Brown: (21:14)
So for me, what’s going to be driving this is our ability to provide the appropriate level of hospital beds and frankly, both doctors, nurses and medical personnel to staff those beds.

Speaker 4: (21:31)
And a next up, we’ve got Dick Hughes. Go ahead, Dick.

Dick Hughes: (21:37)
Governor, this has to do with social distancing.

Governor Kate Brown: (21:45)
Go ahead.

Dick Hughes: (21:46)
You’ve encouraged people to stay home, not drive places, yet the state police says this is not martial law, so people can drive where they wish. So I’m trying to reconcile these two things. People want to go for a Sunday drive or whatever. What are the restrictions? Can they drive a couple of hours to go for a hike as long as they maintain social distance?

Governor Kate Brown: (22:21)
So Dick, that’s a really good question. I think it’s totally appropriate if you want to get in a car with your partner or your loved one and your kids or your kid and go for a drive. I think that’s appropriate. I also think taking a drive and going for a hike is appropriate as long as you can maintain social distancing. I think I saw on the Statesman Journal the places that got obliterated with people over the weekend, including Multnomah Falls and other spaces.

Governor Kate Brown: (22:58)
But again, the goal here is to limit your social circles. The goal is to stay away from crowds. The goal is to maintain social distancing and Oregonians are very innovative and creative and I encourage them to comply with the spirit and the letter of the executive order.

Speaker 4: (23:22)
Thanks Dick. We’ve got time for just a couple more questions. So we’ll go next to Fiona with Portland Monthly.

Fiona McCann: (23:29)
Yeah. Hi governor. Fiona McCann here. I just wanted to ask you, given what you mentioned about the opportunity for people to file [inaudible 00:23:37] complaint at whether you would consider, depending on what comes out of those complaints, expanding the number of businesses that are prohibited from opening at this time?

Governor Kate Brown: (23:49)
I think we have all options on the table. I think for me, what I’m wanting to do [inaudible 00:23:57] very aggressive steps to reduce the transmission and flatten the curve and the more compliant we are with these steps, the more likely we are to slow the transmission and flatten the curve. So as I said, I’ll take hospital bed data, I’ll certainly take our number data in effect. I’ll certainly take into effect the concerns that we hear from employees from around the state.

Governor Kate Brown: (24:35)
But given that this is an unprecedented situation, none of us have ever lived through this before. I have to keep all options on the table and certainly that is one of them. Okay.

Speaker 4: (24:49)
Thanks Fiona.

Governor Kate Brown: (24:50)
Thank you Fiona.

Speaker 4: (24:51)
Next we’ve got Dirk with OPV. Go ahead, Dirk.

Dirk: (24:55)
Thanks. Hey governor. So you’ve been very clear that we are in a problematic revenue situation, but we don’t know what it is. It sounds like maybe there could be cashflow issues based on the personal income tax delay you just mentioned. What are you doing to save costs at this moment? I understand you have not ordered that [crosstalk 00:25:13] positions not be filled. So what steps are you taking to make sure the state is saving costs while we navigate this?

Governor Kate Brown: (25:20)
So Dirk, my agency directors have been really focused on how do we operate in the age of COVID- 19? How do we ensure that our employees are safe and how do we ensure that we are solving, working to solve the problem and slow transmission and flatten the curve? We will use the tools that frankly I have had to use in my time as governor, in my time as secretary of state and my time as a legislator.

Governor Kate Brown: (25:59)
So for example, there’s no state travel happening right now. I anticipate that we will be focused over the next few weeks on other specific steps that we can take to save the state general fund.

Dirk: (26:15)
Right. Because clearly not all the useful services of the state are absolutely necessary for combating the disease. So, I mean, are you thinking of curtailing some of those maybe in the parlance of the day, non essential things, at least non essential in this context?

Governor Kate Brown: (26:31)
Well, obviously there are certain things that we’re looking at that we have closed down in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, some of our DMVs. For those Oregonians who need this type of service, they need to call their local office and see if they can get an appointment. But I think for me, if you look at the bulk of the budget, we go back to three things. We educate, we medicate and we incarcerate, right? Those are how we spend about-

Governor Kate Brown: (27:03)
And we incarcerate, right? Those are how we spend about 90% of every dollar. That’s very rough.

Governor Kate Brown: (27:09)
The DHS, right now, our are making sure that the safety and welfare of our most vulnerable Oregonians, from our seniors and people with disabilities, to our youth and our children in foster care. Our corrections, obviously, collets under the gun in terms of making sure that we are not having widespread COVID-19 in our corrections system. Then, obviously, you’re aware with what is happening our education system.

Governor Kate Brown: (27:45)
I think what will be really important for us, as we move into this extremely tight revenue situation, is to analyze and assess what the federal package will bring to Oregon. We got the numbers from the NGA this morning. I don’t even believe it’s been passed. We need to analyze that, put those resources on the table, and figure out how that can assist with some key services, as well.

Speaker 5: (28:20)
Thanks, [crosstalk 00:28:21]. We’re a little bit over time, but we have one more caller who’s been waiting patiently. Jillian from the AP, go ahead. Is the Associated Press online?

Jillian: (28:29)
Sorry, hi, yeah, I’m here. Sorry.

Speaker 5: (28:31)

Jillian: (28:32)
Yeah, I think Governor Brown addressed a little bit of my question already in her remarks, but I’m wondering, there’s been a lot of discussion about canceling non-emergency procedures, operations, and getting beds ready, and preparing for this influx. I’m wondering, based on what you said about the number of beds, it seems like that has not yet arrived, if there are those numbers of beds left in the state. I’m wondering, do you have a sense of where things stand right now in Portland, and statewide, and can we expect a surge that will overwhelm hospitals at this point, or is it not known yet?

Governor Kate Brown: (29:13)
Yes. I can tell you exactly where we are right now. We have roughly 2,028 available non-ICU beds and, excuse me, 394 ICU beds, and 608 available ventilators. I can tell you that the joint task force that we set up a couple, it might have been a week or so, a week ago, two weeks ago, is working on making sure that we have this data in real time. That will take several days, because not all the rural hospitals have the systems in place to make that happen, but that’s obviously a critical data point for us.

Governor Kate Brown: (29:56)
Dirk asked a question, you might recall, about a week and a half ago about why Oregon has relatively fewer beds than other states. The answer is quite simply because we have done such a good job delivering primary care to over a million Oregonians through the Oregon Health Plan. We probably do not have the hospital bed capacity that some other states do, but the joint task force is using the modeling data and other information, is working to make sure that we can literally pop up, I would say, step down beds from the hospitals, pop up tents, like down at the Salem Fairgrounds, and figure out how we partner with Mercy Corps, and others, and Eastern Oregon, to make sure that we have beds available.

Governor Kate Brown: (30:55)
The harsh reality is, the more we isolate, the better chance we will have of not overwhelming the system. That’s why I [crosstalk 00:31:05]-

Jillian: (31:05)
Do you know [crosstalk 00:31:05]-

Governor Kate Brown: (31:05)
Go ahead, go ahead.

Jillian: (31:07)
A quick follow-up question. Of those beds, do you know how many of them are available in, say, in Portland, in the Portland metro area. I mean, those are statewide beds that you just listed, right? How does that break down?

Governor Kate Brown: (31:21)
You have five major hospitals operating in the Portland metro area, so I would assume the vast bulk of them, but I don’t know how to break that down for you. We’ll see if someone can get you that information. The Hospital Association may also have that data. We do not.

Speaker 5: (31:37)
Thanks, everyone. We’re a little bit over time. Thanks to everyone for calling in. Again, if you need the audio from the call or the written remarks, please email Nikki and I, and we’ll get that to you.

Speaker 6: (31:46)
Can I just add something?

Speaker 5: (31:47)
Go ahead.

Speaker 6: (31:49)
Sorry about technical difficulties. I will tell you that it took me 10 minutes to get into the National Governor’s Association call this morning, so everybody is facing the same level of challenges with the extensive telephonic conferencing that’s happening, so I appreciate your patience.

Speaker 5: (32:07)
Thanks, everyone.

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