Sep 7, 2021
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript September 7
Oregon Governor Kate Brown gave a COVID-19 press conference on September 7, 2021. Read the full coronavirus news briefing speech here.
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Governor Kate Brown: (07:46)
Good morning. I’m joined today by Doctor Dean Sidelinger, our State Epidemiologist, Dave Baden, Chief Financial Officer at the Oregon Health Authority, Colt Gill, Director of the Oregon Department of Education, and Doctor Dana Braner, Physician in Chief at OHSU Doernbrecher Children’s Hospital. Happy Rosh Hashanah to everyone celebrating today. We wish you a happy and sweet new year.
Governor Kate Brown: (08:14)
Following the Labor Day weekend, we’re here to give an update on COVID-19 and our next steps in fighting the delta surge, but first, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that today marks one year since the devastating Lionshead, Beachie Creek, Holiday Farm, and Almeda fires. The Labor Day 2020 fires destroyed homes and ravaged communities across the state and together burned more than one million acres and thousands of homes.
Governor Kate Brown: (08:48)
Unfortunately, we lost nine Oregonians. This anniversary is traumatizing for so many Oregonians, especially with so much wildfire still on the landscape. I want to thank all the dedicated Oregonians, from the firefighters to local emergency managers, to the Red Cross volunteers and many more who helped fight these fires last year and now are focused on recovery. These folks, both paid and volunteer, put their lives on the line to keep us safe. We are incredibly grateful for their service.
Governor Kate Brown: (09:28)
September also marks National Preparedness Month. I encourage all Oregonians to join me in honoring with action. Learn how you can prepare your family for wildfire and other emergencies. You can learn more at Ready dot gov.
Governor Kate Brown: (09:49)
Moving to COVID, let me start with some promising news. Thanks to Oregonians doing your part, modeling is showing that we are successfully slowing the spread of the delta variant. We’re using the two most powerful tools that we have, vaccines and masks. Because Oregonians are masking up and continuing to get vaccinated, we have been able to cut the projected length of this surge. That is really good news.
Governor Kate Brown: (10:21)
However, there’s still some challenging times ahead. We must remain vigilant. Every action you take impacts how this plays out. Doctor Sidelinger will share more, but let me take a moment to thank you all for stepping up. Every time you mask up, you’re helping our doctors and nurses do their jobs. Every time you mask up, you’re helping our kids return to school more safely. Every time you mask up, you’re helping keep our businesses and our communities open. Thank you. Less than two weeks ago, I visited the ICU at Oregon Health and Science University. Our doctors, nurses, and healthcare staff are exhausted and continuing to work long hours. We are so grateful for their dedication and determination to save lives. We know that the overwhelming majority of patients in ICUs are unvaccinated. It was both eye opening and gut wrenching to put people’s faces and stories to these statistics.
Governor Kate Brown: (11:34)
I saw a young father on life support. He wasn’t going to make it. A pregnant woman who didn’t get vaccinated because she was concerned about the safety of the vaccines for expecting parents. It is heartbreaking to see Oregonians on ventilators when vaccines have made hospitalization from this disease largely preventable. It’s also a harsh reminder of the human toll this pandemic continues to have. By now, you may know someone who’s gotten COVID, or worse, lost someone you love to the virus. I’m so sorry for your loss. COVID-19 is still very dangerous and unpredictable for those who are not yet vaccinated. With the FDA’s recent full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, we have further confirmation that vaccines are safe and effective.
Governor Kate Brown: (12:34)
If you still have questions, reach out to your healthcare provider or visit COVID Vaccine dot Oregon dot gov. Or speak to a vaccinated friend or family member about your concerns. Please do not let misinformation or questions stop you from protecting yourself and your family.
Governor Kate Brown: (12:56)
Before I hand it over to Director Gill, it’s with mixed emotions that we are welcoming our kids back to school this year. I know many parents are excited for kids to return to the classroom full time and at the same time anxious about the delta variant. Director Gill will give an update on how we’re working to make sure we have the latest possible transition back to full time, in-person learning. Doctor Braner will share some tips for parents and families.
Governor Kate Brown: (13:29)
We all play a part in reducing community spread of this virus, so our kiddos can have the best chance at a safe and normal school year. Please get vaccinated and wear a mask. Together, we can stop the delta variant from spreading and keep our kids safe and learning in the classroom.
Governor Kate Brown: (13:50)
With that, I’ll turn it over to Director Gill to share more about back to school efforts in Oregon. Director Gill, the floor is yours.
Director Gill: (14:01)
Thank you, Governor Brown. Now, our children are now beginning our third school year impacted by COVID-19. Like adults in Oregon, our kids have experienced a lot of change and a lot of emotion over the past several months. Some of our children have experienced the loss or suffering of a family member or a friend due to COVID-19, and all of our children have experienced some isolation from personal connection with their peers and trusted adults as they transitioned to school online at some point last year.
Director Gill: (14:34)
Last spring, most experienced the anxiousness of a first day of in-person school that came months late and included many new protocols to keep everyone safe. The good news is that we proved schools can be in session in person and still mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This is possible because schools are controlled settings. They are a place where we are all used to following rules to help keep everyone safe and to help everyone get along together.
Director Gill: (15:06)
Last year, schools layered safety protocols like face coverings, physical distancing, cohorts, symptom screening, hand washing, and added ventilation that created a protection for everyone in the school setting. Individuals with COVID-19 did show up in our schools. They were caught early, and they rarely spread COVID-19 to anyone else in that setting.
Director Gill: (15:31)
This year, we’ve set a clear north star for our schools. It is a priority that our kids need and one that we have practiced and believe we can succeed in reaching. This year, we want all of our children to safely and reliably participate in school, full time, in person, every school day, all year long. Our children need this. Nearly all our children can learn better when they’re taught in person by a talented teacher who can build a caring bond that leads to each child growing and learning beyond our expectations.
Director Gill: (16:08)
Our kids also need social interaction. They need time with their friends and peers. This creates wellbeing and instills happiness. Many of our kids need the access to a solid breakfast and a warm lunch that’s also offered at school. Many can benefit from the physical and mental health services available in our schools. Our schools are places of learning and care. Our kids need access again. This won’t be easy, and it will take some sacrifice on the part of community to make this a reality for our children this school year. In recent weeks, Oregon has seen community spread, hospitalization, and ICU rates at all-time highs due to the highly transmissible delta variant.
Director Gill: (16:55)
If you are a student, a family member, an educator, or really anyone who comes into contact with school-aged children, we have an ask of you.
Director Gill: (17:03)
… who comes into contact with school-aged children. We have an ask of you as communities across the state. We need you to do your part to protect this school year. As I shared, our schools are practiced our teachers, our administrators, bus drivers, office and kitchen staff, and all the others in the schools know how to implement these protocols. They are doing the work of heroes right now. Almost all the health and safety protocols a school will implement this year are in their hands. The state and our communities are placing our trust in local school leaders to consider physical distancing ventilation, symptom screening, and so much more. You can see your school’s plan on their website, or at oregon.gov/readyschools. But our local school leaders need your cooperation and support, so our kids can go to school and stay in school this year.
Director Gill: (17:58)
COVID-19 is a real health threat. That is why there are a couple of universal requirements for the protocols that can keep our kids and their families and our staff and their families safe. We have statewide masking requirements. If you are around anyone outside your household, especially if they have school-aged children, please wear a mask. And we have vaccine requirements for our educators. They will be in indoor spaces with mostly unvaccinated youth for several hours each day. When you look at Oregon’s case rates, our hospitalization rates, ICU rates, and sadly, even our death rates, it is clear that vaccines work and that they are saving lives. If you are in a household with school-aged children and you are eligible for a vaccine, please get a shot and protect yourself. But even beyond protecting yourself, you’ll be protecting your family members, your child’s teacher and bus driver, and most of all, your child.
Director Gill: (19:05)
These two statewide safety protocols, and each of the safety protocols put in place by your school, not only make it safer for everyone, but they also help ensure that our kids actually get to stay in school. While there are some serious cases, thankfully, most children still do not get severe cases of COVID-19. However, their access to school is constantly under threat due to exposures to individuals with the highly transmissible Delta variant. Students come into exposure, and then they’re quarantined and they miss school time. The safety protocols that we have in place help reduce exposures, limit the impact of quarantines, and help keep our kids in school learning, playing, and growing.
Director Gill: (19:50)
When eligible individuals vaccinate, they don’t quarantine unless they’re symptomatic. When people wear masks, they’re less likely to be quarantined. When schools use physical distancing and cohort protocols, fewer students get quarantined. The better we adhere to the health and safety protocols in schools, the less likely we are to have students be quarantined and the more likely we are to have them stay in school. We’ve already seen a few Oregon schools close or delay the start of their school year this year due to student and staff quarantines or isolations this fall. These have been primarily from COVID-19 exposures outside of the school day. We all hold some responsibility for achieving this full-time, in-person school year. The threat to losing school time or to moving back to online school is real, but I believe that we can do better than this.
Director Gill: (20:48)
Because of the health and safety measures we have in place, our schools can be safe spaces for students and staff. We have proven it in the past, but we all have to take a part in making that statement true. The more we all do our part to limit COVID-19 spread in communities, the more we can protect our students in and out of school. Please make a small, personal sacrifice to do what you can to make this school year a success. This means wearing a mask, even when you don’t want to, or getting vaccinated. These are small gives to support our children and Oregon’s future. In fact, last week, we released five straight- forward back to school tips for families with kids that are heading back to the classroom. They’re simple. Make a plan to vaccinate all eligible household members, wear a mask in public and in carpools, limit your gatherings with other households, and move any of those gatherings that you do have outside, and make a plan in case your child needs to miss school. These are five simple steps to help protect the first month of school.
Director Gill: (21:57)
Today, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education also issued their first school health advisory. These advisories will include additional steps that individuals, families, schools, and communities can take to help us reach our north star. Again, that north star is ensuring that all of our children are able to safely and reliably participate in school full-time, in-person, every school day, all year long. These school health advisories may be regional or statewide, and they will change from time to time, depending on COVID-19 conditions and what we learn about effective mitigation strategies.
Director Gill: (22:39)
To maintain the continuity of instruction during the first month of school this school year, OHA and ODE are issuing the following five school health advisories. These are to remain in effect statewide from September 7th to October 1st, unless we update them otherwise. One, all eligible youth and adults who come into contact with school-aged children should vaccinate to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the school community. Two, families with school-aged children and educators should limit gatherings and non-essential activities with people from other households to the extent that they can. And if you are visiting from people from other households, you should wear masks, maintain physical distancing, and keep your activities outdoors as much as possible. Three, to the extent possible schools and other organizations in and around schools with youth should reduce extracurricular activities and consider holding such activities as meals, recess, PE classes, music, and choir outdoors to maximize physical distancing and ventilation. Four, schools should hold all of those great beginning of the school year family events like open houses, carnivals, teacher nights online. If they can’t be held online, if they must be in person, the participants should wear masks, maintain physical distancing of at least six feet, and hold those events outside. Finally, number five, families should check your school’s website or ODE’s ready school safe learners website to review your school’s safe return to in-person instruction plan. That way, you will know what all the protocols at your school are. And finally, I want to share that we have significant plans for this school year beyond our health and safety protocols. We want to make sure that this school year is all about care and connection. Our kids need opportunities to rebuild relationships with their friends and peers and their teachers, school counselors, and other school staff. Our kids also need time to process this last 18 months. They need to know that they are welcome and cared about in our schools. Our care and connection program is all about reconnecting with kids in school staff and showing them that we believe in them and that their feelings matter. We have asked all over our schools to start the year with a care and connection week. We have supplied them with activities for the opening week of school, and throughout the school year. You can learn more about the project at your child’s school or at oregon.gov/readyschools. There, you’ll find out what schools are doing for your children, but also activities that you can do at home, including information about how you can talk to your kids about COVID-19.
Director Gill: (25:41)
We are schools, so I can guarantee that there will be teaching and learning as well. It’s what we do. It’s what we live for. But we are talking about taking a little bit of extra time to work through that back to school anxiousness and make sure that each one of our children know that they are welcome in our schools and that they matter in our hearts before we jumped into reading, writing, math, art, science, and more. Even as we push through some of the darkest days of the global pandemic in Oregon, this fall can be a time of renewal for all of us. We can all be a part of making a return to in-person learning a success. Please do what you can by wearing a mask, getting vaccinated, and keeping physical distance from those in other households. This is something you can do for a child that you know and love. You can make their school year a success. Thank you. Governor Brown?
Governor Kate Brown: (26:42)
Thank you so much, Director Gill. I really appreciate your leadership. And with that, we’re going to turn it over to Dr. Dean Sidelinger, our state epidemiologist.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (26:53)
Thank you very much, Governor Brown, and thank you, Director Gill. I truly appreciate the partnership between ODE and the OHA as we continue to work together to provide safe in-person instruction to all Oregon students this year. The Delta variant continues to ravage communities across Oregon. Our hospitals are scrambling to avoid being overtopped by record numbers of COVID-19 patients. Daily cases and hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 have been hovering at or near pandemic highs over the past several weeks. Our most recent COVID-19 weekly report tallied 16,252 new cases, the eighth consecutive weekly increase. That is 13 times higher than the reported cases for the week ending July 4. But in some good news, the cases last week appear to be down slightly over the week prior. COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions reached record highs last week before receding slightly. More good news. But those numbers remain alarmingly high.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (28:02)
Our hospitals to breach the saturation point, where health systems are not able to provide care to everyone arriving at their doors. That means fewer beds for anyone who experiences a medical incident, not just COVID-19, but because of other medical problems, like a heart attack or injuries from a car crash. Needed surgeries and procedures are being delayed. It is the crisis we all dread, one that we must do everything to avoid. An overwhelming majority of the patients with COVID-19 filling these critically needed beds are unvaccinated. I cannot say this are plainly. This is a crisis that is largely being driven by people who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19. Unlike during the earlier days of the pandemic, we now have access to safe and highly effective vaccines. I urge everyone who is eligible for vaccination to take advantage of this lifesaving opportunity for yourself, for your families, and your communities.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (29:09)
Our newest modeling last week offered some encouragement, a slowing of the growth of cases and hospitalizations in the coming weeks. But that is conditioned upon more adult Oregonians getting vaccinated and taking other protective steps, such as wearing masks when in indoor public spaces, when we’re outdoors amongst crowds, And reconsidering plans that put us or others at higher risk from getting COVID-19. The decisions we make over the next few weeks will determine whether we plunge deeper into the crisis of care, or re-reverse this rising tsunami. I recognize that the current COVID-19 outlook is a source of concern for parents of students returning to classrooms this fall. OHA has been working closely with the Oregon Department of Education to ensure that our schools remain well protected against COVID-19. We are confident that the safety protocols Director Gill has outlined will achieve the delicate balance of promoting the safety of students and staff, and will minimize the risk of catching the virus in school and bringing it home.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (30:18)
One of the most important tools that we have in our fight to contain the virus is the availability of COVID-19 testing for students and staff. Access to regular and reliable screening and testing can identify COVID-19 infections more quickly and help the slow transmission in K-12 setting. These include diagnostic testing per students, or staff who display symptoms of COVID-19, or who may have been exposed to the virus while at school. This free testing can help diagnose infection early and shorten isolation period. Weekly screening testing for un-vaccinated K-12 staff. These tests are self collected at home and are processed through a regional laboratory. Weekly screening testing of un-vaccinated students through an opt-in program. Because COVID-19 vaccines are so incredibly effective in reducing the risk of infection, the CDC recommends screening only in unvaccinated individuals. [inaudible 00:31:20] choose to verify vaccination status, but it’s not required. And all interested K-12 schools and students are welcome to enroll, regardless of vaccination status. I encourage every school to participate in these important testing programs. Schools must register for the 2021-2022 school year, even if they participated last year, and parents should encourage their children’s schools to enroll. This is critical to accomplishing our shared objective of ensuring that schools can reliably hold in-person instruction every school day for all students, all year long. I want to conclude with a very special thank you to my public health colleagues and community partners who continue their hard work every day to help protect Oregonians from COVID-19, despite being physically and emotionally exhausted. We have been battling this virus for over a year and a half, combating misinformation, investigating cases, linking people to much needed services, vaccinated Oregonians, and so much more. Thank you.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (32:28)
I extend my deepest gratitude to the healthcare workers who continue to provide quality care to Oregonians, all in the face of exhaustion, delaying needed care because of capacity, in the face of immense losses that they do not have time to fully grieve. To all Oregonians who are ill, worried about sick loved ones, or grieving the loss of a loved one, my thoughts are with you, to everyone who has taken the time and effort to get the vaccine and that are wearing masks, thank you. All of you who are taking steps to protect yourself and those around you, I’m truly grateful. Thank you. Once again, Oregonians are rising to the challenge. To people who have not been vaccinated, please make a plan and get vaccinated. You could save your life or the life of a loved one. Thank you. And with that, I’d like to turn things over to Dr. Dana Braner
Dr. Dana Braner: (33:27)
Good afternoon. My name is Dana Braner. I’m the physician in chief at OHS Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. For 32 years, I’ve cared for Oregon’s sickens kids in Doernbecher’s pediatric ICU. I’ve had the privilege of supporting Oregon families through their darkest hours and celebrating the incredible progress that their kids make throughout their healthcare journeys. It is my job as well as my passion to ensure the wellbeing of all children across our state. I am honored to speak with you today on behalf of Oregon’s kids. The return to in-person school is essential, not only for-
Dr. Dana Braner: (34:03)
Return to in-person school is essential not only for our children’s education, but for their physical and mental health as well. In 32 years, I have never seen a mental health crisis the likes of which I am seeing daily here. We need to combat that with all available resources, and in-person school is a very important one of those. As a pediatric physician and also as a father, I understand the stress that this year’s back to school season brings. As Governor Brown has stated many times before, the Delta variant has changed the game. After so many months of progress, Oregon is now engaged in a new battle unlike anything we’ve seen before. Understandably, this may cause some parents to feel torn between their child’s overall wellbeing and the risks of contracting COVID-19.
Dr. Dana Braner: (34:52)
While we know that severe illness in children with COVID-19 is unlikely, it is still possible that kids may transmit the virus to other vulnerable family or community members, and we are still learning about the longer-term aspects of COVID-19. This is why we must all collectively as a community prioritize our kids’ health, and their social, emotional, and emotional successes. We must all do our part to slow the spread of COVID and to give our schools and kids a chance. We know how to do this, and we have all of the tools we need to support a healthy system in the classroom and a healthy return. Getting vaccinated is the single best thing a person can do to prevent their own severe sickness and death and protect others from the virus, especially those not able yet to get a vaccine. Available vaccines are safe, they are effective, and they make COVID-19 a preventable illness.
Dr. Dana Braner: (35:54)
Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people who need to interact with the community and schools or otherwise should follow these three precautions: wear your mask in all public spaces, both indoor and outdoors, when physical distancing is not possible. Not only will this help to protect you and your loved ones from COVID, but the risks of seasonal colds and influenza as well. Limit gatherings if possible, and if you do gather, please do it outside if possible, and physically distance whenever possible. Again, we know that this is hard and this is tiring, but every mask, every vaccine, every attempt to limit gatherings is important.
Dr. Dana Braner: (36:37)
As the proverb goes, it takes a village. In our case, it will take the entire state. We have a common, absolute responsibility to protect our children, be they our own or our neighbors’. Please, get a vaccine for your child or grandchild. Wear a mask for the kid down the street. We all want what’s best for children, and we all need to play a part in their success. Finally, your Children’s Hospital has been taking care of kids and families, all kids and families, for more than 100 years. It will take all of us to fulfill this promise both now and into the future. Thank you so much for your attention, and I’ll pass it back to Governor Brown.
Governor Kate Brown: (37:24)
Thank you so much, Dr. Braner. I am incredibly grateful for your service, and I know I speak for Oregonians across the state. We are so grateful for the dedication and service of healthcare workers around the state to keep Oregonians safe and healthy and alive. With that, Charles, we’re ready for questions.
Thank you, Governor. We’ll get started with Pat Dooris with KGW. Go ahead, Pat.
Pat Dooris: (37:52)
Thank you. Governor, as we all think about the large gatherings, we’ve had the University of Oregon football game last weekend. This coming week, we have the Pendleton Round-Up. I know you’re a big fan of that. Will you be going? And what would you say to others who may or may not be going?
Governor Kate Brown: (38:09)
Unfortunately, Pat, you know I adore attending the Pendleton Round-Up, and unfortunately I will not be going this year. For those who are attending, I encourage them to get vaccinated ahead of time and to wear their mask. I know sometimes it can be quite warm in the Pendleton region, but we know that when combined with vaccines, masks are a very simple and effective tool to reduce transmission of the Delta variant. To everyone else, I’ll say let her buck.
Pat Dooris: (38:42)
And just a brief follow-up, can you say why you’re not going?
Governor Kate Brown: (38:46)
I am certainly concerned about community spread.
Pat Dooris: (38:54)
Thank you, Pat. We’ll gain next to Kevin Winter with the Lake County Examiner. Go ahead, Kevin.
Kevin Winter: (39:01)
Thank you for your time. Governor, with the medical and religious exemption, will the state be investigating people who request those exemptions in healthcare and education settings?
Governor Kate Brown: (39:14)
Here’s the good news. The good news is that the vast majority of our healthcare workers and our educator workforce have gotten vaccinated. We’re waiting to see numbers on the state workforce. As I just said, masks and vaccines are the most simple and effective tools that we have to beat back the Delta variant. These two tools are like a one-two punch if we want to put the Delta variant to rest. So in terms of the state moving forward, we will be taking appropriate action for state employees that are under the executive branch that do not comply with the vaccine mandate. We obviously are aware that there are folks who will be using both the religious and medical exemptions, and we expect, particularly employees of the state of Oregon, to be honest and trustworthy in filling out these exemptions.
Kevin Winter: (40:16)
Thank you, Kevin. We’ll go next to Kellee Azar with KATU. Go ahead, Kellee.
Kellee Azar: (40:29)
Kellee, are you there?
Kellee Azar: (40:30)
Yes. Hopefully you can hear me now. I had a quick follow-up question to the last question. So what happens to teachers if they do not get vaccinated by the deadline? Will they lose their jobs? And who ultimately makes that decision?
Governor Kate Brown: (40:45)
The good news is that the majority of our educator workforce have gotten vaccinated, and I know many more that are working in our schools are working their way toward their full vaccination status. That’s certainly up to local employers. Director Gill, would you like to respond further to that question, please?
Director Gill: (41:04)
Thanks, Governor. I agree. So first of all, it’s important to know that we have some of the highest vaccination rates among the community in Oregon within our school educator group already, so I think that that’s important that the governor pointed that out. The responsibility to verify the vaccinations and to determine how employees are treated if they refuse to provide the vaccination proof or the one of the two exceptions is up to the individual employer, but it is true that those educators or volunteers cannot interact in the school environment without their vaccination.
Kellee Azar: (41:48)
And then one quick follow-up, if you will. Director Gil, I think this is for you. You mentioned about students quarantining and teachers quarantining already, and having to slow down the opening or even pause openings for schools. Is there a threshold of quarantining students, teachers, and staff that would shut down the school and force students back into that distanced learning?
Director Gill: (42:11)
Yeah, good question. So this will really be on a school-by-school basis. So this is a decision that’s made with a local school district and their local public health authority, where they will take a look at the COVID-19 conditions within their community, and specifically within the school. So they’ll be determining whether there is actually spread transmission in the school site, or if that’s happening outside the school setting, and they can make a decision to go to some kind of remote instruction. This year, we are holding all of our school districts and charter schools to the instructional time requirements. So even if they do move online, they’ll be required to make sure that every student has access to a full school day. We will provide them with some tools to make sure that they can plan quickly for a short-term move to distance learning if that’s required for a classroom or a wing of a school or even an entire school, but the goal is to get back to in-person instruction. And we do know that from previous experience, that our schools can do this if they have all the right protocols in place.
Kellee Azar: (43:19)
Thank you, Kellee. We’ll go next to Gary Warner with EO Media. Go ahead, Gary. Gary, are you there?
Gary Warner: (43:33)
Yeah, can you hear me now?
Yes, go ahead.
Gary Warner: (43:35)
Okay, great. The most recent report out of Marion County showed an 8.8% increase in infections. That comes after the state fair that was there. Are you concerned that you’re going to see that level of increase in something like the Pendleton Round-up, which is going to be an exponentially larger event? And the other problem with the fair was that several reports showed that even though there were rules about wearing masks, they were largely ignored by the majority of the people. What are you going to do going forward on the Pendleton Round-up about those rules?
Governor Kate Brown: (44:19)
So Gary, we know that these large events, whether it’s the Oregon State Fair or the Pendleton Round-up, have the potential to be super-spreader events, and that’s why it’s so critically important that people get vaccinated and wear their masks. These are incredibly simple and effective tools to slow the transmission of the virus. In terms of numbers regarding post-fair, I’ll turn it over to Dr. Sidelinger, but we are taking a education-first approach with Oregonians, and obviously OSHA, which has been enforcing masking guidelines throughout the pandemic. We’ll be following up with establishments, both providing educational materials…
Governor Kate Brown: (45:06)
But should folks not be in compliance, they will be taking appropriate action. But I would just say this to Oregonians: this isn’t about you. This is about the kids under 12 that can’t be vaccinated. This is about your friend or your neighbor who’s struggling with cancer, and for whatever reason cannot receive his or her vaccine right now. This is for our community members that are immunocompromised. This is about our entire community. It’s also about our healthcare workers that have been working day and night for weeks, for months now to keep Oregonians alive. And they need us. All of these people need us to be wearing our masks. Dr. Sidelinger.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (45:57)
Thank you, Governor Brown. Thank you, Gary, for that question. I think we will continue to work with Marion County and our other local public health jurisdictions to determine if large outbreaks are associated with events like the state fair. The increase in cases you mentioned in Marion County following the fair come at a time when cases were increasing across the state, including in Marion County. We asked individuals, as Governor Brown stated, to continue to take precautions to protect themselves, their families, and loved ones that they return home to. Wearing masks in these places is critically important to reduce the spread, and getting vaccinated when you’re eligible can also reduce the spread. For now, I don’t have any linkages of cases to the state fair and large outbreaks, but we know that with cases as high as they are right now in the state, even with some slowing of that increase and potentially starting to see our peak, people are at risk when they’re out in public.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (46:54)
So think about the plans you’re doing with yourself, your family, particularly if you have unvaccinated individuals like children under 12. Get vaccinated when you can. Wear a mask in these settings. Change plans to outdoors or postpone them if you’re able until cases are lower. And with that, we can get through with less impact from the surge, protect the care that we all deserve in hospitals, and set our children up for success as they return to school full-time, every day this school year after being impacted over the last two school years.
Gary Warner: (47:27)
I just wanted to clarify one thing that the governor said about being able to… Or it was maybe you, Dr. Sidelinger, being able to shorten the period of the rebound off the peak. Right now, OHSU was projecting around October 30th for getting back to where we were prior to the beginning of this spike. Is that still, Dr. Sidelinger, what you think we’re going to be at? How much shorter or longer can we make this as we spill kind of into the holiday seasons?
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (48:09)
Thank you. Let me first be humble with my response. While we’ve learned a lot about this virus in the last year and a half, there are still things we are learning, and still things we are learning about how it interacts in our community. We certainly hope that we are nearing the peak of our current surge. Recent data has shown a slowing, and potentially a decrease in cases last week. Modeling done by our staff here at OHA as well as OHSU shows this peak decreasing in the kind of second to third week in September, and all those are plausible and probably probable. We’ve seen more Oregonians get vaccinated in the past few weeks than we did previously. We know that people are taking steps to wear their masks when they’re in public places. Survey data shows this activity increasing, and certainly that’s contributing to the decrease in cases that we see.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (49:07)
So I’d anticipate if our current trend and the modeling hold that we will see those decreases by October, but we can’t rest on our laurels. This is not an on-off switch. It’s a dimmer switch, so we need to be prepared if COVID re-emerges. Whether it’s the current Delta variant or a future variant that may not even be known yet, it could come back with a vengeance. Plus, as we move into fall, we know that influenza and other respiratory viruses may return with more of a vengeance. We saw a very mild flu season last year. Some of our masks and activities to stay home contributed to this. But as we move into this fall, we know that some people are taking less precautions. So with those activities in mind, we could see more cases in the fall, but for now, I believe the modeling is correct. The activities Oregonians are taking to reduce the risk are working, and we all need to continue to do that together so that we can battle this virus for the fall and the winter.
Thank you, Gary. Next question is from Eder Campuzano with The Oregonian. Go ahead, Eder.
Eder Campuzano: (50:19)
Hi. Thank you, and thanks for taking our questions. So I’m curious. I think we’ve all seen the [inaudible 00:50:26] Research Group sort of study of COVID spread in elementary schools, where kids obviously cannot be vaccinated yet, and that the most effective sort of method to prevent transmission is by adopting a universal masking and testing strategy. So to that, I guess we’re sort of wondering why OHA and the Department of Education have gone with an opt-in strategy for testing, instead of making it opt-out like some other states.
Governor Kate Brown: (50:59)
Eder, I’m going to have Dr. Sidelinger and Director Gill respond to your question. Thanks for joining us.
Governor Kate Brown: (51:03)
… Dr. Sidelinger and Director Gill respond to your question. Thanks for joining us today.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (51:06)
Thank you Governor Brown. For our responsive schools, we have a very robust framework of safety measures in place. As we’ve talked about before, most of those were requirements during the last school year and it moved to local control during this school year with a few exceptions. Primarily amongst those two, as you heard from Director of Gill, are requirements for vaccinations for staff and mask wearing by all students and staff in school settings. These two tools can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools, keeps students, staff, and the families they return home to safe. Surveillance testing, or testing available to those who are not sick and have not had a known exposure to COVID can also help to identify cases early, have those students and staff excluded from school so they can isolate at home while they recover, and help us to identify those who are exposed when it’s a smaller number so those students and staff can stay home in quarantine.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (52:10)
This tool, this valuable resource, is provided to all schools across Oregon, public and private. We have this as an opt-in because we know that schools working with our local public health authorities know best about the situation on the ground and can make decisions about opting in for entire schools, particular classrooms, particular activities that pose a higher risk, such as some extracurricular activities like sports, that bring people in close contact over multiple hours, multiple times a day, multiple days per week. Schools have that as a tool and can opt in to use it. We are encouraging all schools to participate, and through OHA working with our local public health authorities, ODE working with schools, we are working to get that word out to all schools about the screening testing that’s available to them.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (53:01)
We also hope that schools continue to participate in the school testing plan. We had over 90% of schools enrolled last year, and this provides free onsite testing to any student or staff who developed symptoms while at school, or who may have been exposed while at school so that we can minimize disruptions to in-person instruction, but as with many of the safety measures, that surveillance testing remains an option for all schools to opt-in based on their local conditions. Director Gill, do you have anything to add?
Director Gill: (53:31)
No, Dean. Dr. Sidelinger, thank you. I think just one thing to highlight even further, and that is that we really do believe that the protocols our schools have in place in alignment with the two statewide requirements, the masking and the vaccinations, will really do a lot to ensure that COVID-19 doesn’t spread among school communities when those are all implemented with fidelity. Where we have highlighted access to the opt-in testing programs, the surveillance testing programs, or screening testing programs for our schools is especially in places where they can’t implement all of the other health and safety protocols. Dr. Sidelinger talked about sports teams where students may have their masks off during an actual competition. That’s a place where we would highlight that an opt-in screening assessment, screening test program would make a lot of sense.
Director Gill: (54:28)
If they have a large high school where students are changing classes multiple times a day, it makes cohorting very difficult. That’s another place to consider weekly screening of certain classes, so we’re asking them to take a close look at their protocols, and where they can’t implement all of them to consider screening on top of that. We’re asking all districts, like nearly all did last year, to volunteer to provide the diagnostic testing for when students or staff are exposed to COVID-19 or show symptoms of COVID-19.
Thank you Director. We have time for just a few more questions, so we’ll go next to Sarah Hurwitz with KPTV. Go ahead, Sarah.
Sarah Hurwitz: (55:16)
Hi. Can you hear me?
Governor Kate Brown: (55:18)
We can hear you, Sarah.
Sarah Hurwitz: (55:20)
Great. Thank you so much. Okay. This question is for Director Gill. You mentioned this in another question. You said that schools, if they have to move online, that ODE does have plans to ensure that students would have access to a full school day. We’ve heard from some parents though. In certain situations now, we know that there are large groups of students who’ve already had to quarantine, stay home, like a full bus of kids, for example. In these cases, parents say that there’s no online instruction that’s actually happening, that they’re being relied on to help teach their kids with these take home packets. I’m just curious, in these kind of back and forth situations, is this a standard protocol for learning in this quarantine case and if schools shut down completely that they would have access to online instruction?
Director Gill: (56:15)
Yeah. Thanks for that question. I mean, the first thing we need to do is to try to minimize the number of students who are quarantined. The more we can do to take a close look at contact tracing, make sure that we’re only quarantining the students who are actually with masks on under three feet for 15 cumulative minutes or more with those individuals, or without masks within six feet for 15 cumulative minutes or more. We want to be more exacting about the contact tracing and quarantining whenever we can. That’s the protocols that are directed by the local public health authority, not necessarily the school district. That partnership needs to be strong and in place to help ensure our students have access to full-time in-person school.
Director Gill: (57:03)
Then when students are quarantined, we have asked all districts to be able to provide ongoing instruction for those students. It does look different in different districts based on the technology, both that the families have at home and that the school district has to offer. Some school districts are placing those students into online learning programs that exist within the district. Others are treating it more like an absence that they would for a cold or a flu and providing access to time with the teacher and packets like you talked about. Others actually have cameras in classrooms and allow the students to participate in the daily teaching in that class as much as they can, especially if they aren’t ill. It does look a little bit different from district to district, but each district is required to provide the full instructional hours for the school year for all students.
Sarah Hurwitz: (57:59)
Thank you. If I could, I just have one unrelated question. This is for OHA. I see that OHA has been promoting this antibody treatment. I’m curious, it says if you’ve tested positive for COVID or if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID that an antibody treatment is something that is suggested as possibility. That could be a good way of protecting yourself. I just wanted to get a sense of the messaging here and how important is this in this whole process? What would you say to folks about this antibody treatment?
Governor Kate Brown: (58:40)
Thank you, Sarah. I’m going to turn that over to Dr. Sidelinger.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (58:44)
Thank you. Monoclonal antibodies are an effective treatment that we have available for COVID-19, but we know that in people, if given this treatment early in the course of their disease, it can prevent more serious disease. It can also be used in some of those who are most vulnerable, who have a known exposure, to prevent the disease. Monoclonal antibodies are not an easy treatment. It requires trained healthcare professionals to deliver the treatment as a shot and to observe the individuals to make sure there are no adverse events. We’ve worked tirelessly to get this treatment available in different healthcare settings so that it can be delivered to folks to prevent more serious disease. As we’ve stated before, we know our healthcare partners are juggling the highest number of COVID cases that they’ve had since the beginning of this pandemic, and so they’re also the partners we rely on to deliver the monoclonal antibody.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (59:40)
They may not be as widely available as we’d like, but this is an effective treatment for those who are exposed or for those who’ve just started their symptoms to prevent more serious disease. Even more effective at preventing disease in the first place, having a vaccine onboard and being fully protected by the vaccine does even more to protect you from serious consequences to COVID-19. For those of us vaccinated or not, when we’re in public settings, indoors or outdoor crowded settings, wearing our mask and trying to keep our distance will prevent us from getting sick, but monoclonal antibodies offer an additional tool to help us fight this virus as we face the highest surge we’ve seen in Oregon since the beginning of the pandemic.
Sarah Hurwitz: (01:00:24)
Thank you, Sarah. We have time for just two more quick questions. We’re going to go next to Lesley Thompson with the Argus Observer. Go ahead, Leslie. Leslie, are you there? We’ll come back to Leslie. We’ll go next to Amelia Templeton with OTB. Go ahead, Amelia.
Amelia Templeton: (01:00:54)
Yes. Hi. We’ve heard that in Idaho and Hawaii, Governors there have announced versions of crisis standards of care, and I’m just wondering why hasn’t that happened yet for hospitals in southern Oregon where we’ve been told they can’t treat everybody who needs their care?
Governor Kate Brown: (01:01:13)
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (01:01:17)
Thank you. Governor Brown. OHA has worked with our health care partners and community members to provide a framework for how to triage or deliver care in resource constrained times. Certainly this surge of COVID-19 has impacted the ability of healthcare systems to deliver that care. The care that right now is not being delivered is what’s considered non-urgent care. These are scheduled procedures. When I say non-urgent, I’m not talking about cosmetic procedures or things that can be put off indefinitely. These are not procedures people would choose to have. These are orthopedic procedures like hip replacements that keep people out of pain, keep them mobile so that they can live their lives. This is surgery to do staging for cancer diagnoses so that people can receive the appropriate treatment in a timely fashion. These are truly critical procedures, surgeries for people who need it, and they are being delayed.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (01:02:17)
Our health care partners are doing everything to serve the people that are in front of them. We know that patients are spending longer periods in the emergency department as they wait for beds to be available. They’re being cared for by skilled professionals in the healthcare setting, augmented by staffing from our National Guard to do some nonclinical behaviors, contracted staff that are coming in to help hospitals who are hardest hit, and staffing that has come in through our FEMA partners and our federal partners. This is not providing care in the location where hospitals would expect to do it. Hospitals are living day in and day out having dedicated staff who are providing this care in non-traditional locations, hallways, conference rooms, and other places where they can find care. We need the surge decreased so they can continue to provide the highest level of care to everyone even those who have non-urgent needs because that is the care that’s suffering. We hope that they will follow the framework for triage and care and serving people in the most appropriate fashion based on the framework that’s posted. We hear from our hospitals that they’re doing that.
Amelia Templeton: (01:03:26)
Have you taken any steps to limit the civil liability of doctors, nurses, and hospitals that are caring for people in hallways and other spaces that are traditionally used for critical care?
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (01:03:38)
I think our hospital providers are doing the best they can with the resources they have. Staffing has increased with these resources from our federal partners, staffing contracts, and then augmented by the National Guard. Staffing ratios have also been adjusted based on the needs of the patients in these settings, and our healthcare partners have the ability to do some of this on their own. Certainly no one, our hospital partners, or the people they care for ought to see a lower standard of care, and we know that our hospitals and healthcare systems are providing the highest level of care that they can. They’re just providing it at a cadence that is unsustainable over the long-term. Our nurses, respiratory therapists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals are tired. They have been fighting this for a year and a half.
Amelia Templeton: (01:04:26)
Dr. Sidelinger, the question was about the legal liability issue. For example, we know in Hawaii that has now happened has anything been done specifically to limit the legal liability of hospitals and nurses under the current circumstances?
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (01:04:43)
There is no action that is currently being taken at the statewide level. I would encourage you to talk to healthcare systems about actions they’re taking to care for their patients in the highest way possible.
Thank you, Amelia. We’re just a little bit over time, but I’m going to try one more time with the Argus Observer. Leslie, are you there?
Leslie Thompson: (01:05:03)
I am here. Can you hear me?
Yes. Go ahead.
Leslie Thompson: (01:05:07)
Oh, thank you. Will people in worker class groups that are mandated to get vaccines who do not meet exemptions for medical or religious reasons, be eligible for unemployment if they get terminated from their positions?
Governor Kate Brown: (01:05:23)
Thanks, Leslie. I suspect that will be done on a case by case basis, and it certainly depends on the particular circumstances with the employer. My understanding, generally speaking, they will not be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Leslie Thompson: (01:05:40)
Thank you. Do we have time for just one …?
I’m sorry. We’re we’re over time, Leslie, so we’re going to wrap.
Leslie Thompson: (01:05:46)
Governor Kate Brown: (01:05:49)
Thank you. Thank you so much. Please stay safe out there. If you haven’t gotten vaccinated, please make a plan to do so. Please wear your mask when out in public or in a public building. We want to make sure that we keep our kids in school in the classroom with as minimal disruption as possible, and of course keep our businesses and communities open. Thank you.