Apr 23, 2021
Oregon Governor Kate Brown COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript April 23
Oregon Governor Kate Brown gave a COVID-19 press conference on April 23, 2021. Read the full coronavirus news briefing speech here.
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Governor Kate Brown: (04:46)
But before we begin our COVID-19 update today I wanted to take a moment to recognize the significance of the guilty verdict rendered earlier this week in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minnesota police officer who murdered George Floyd. Let me be perfectly clear. This was not justice for George Floyd. Justice would be if he was alive and with us today. But it is a step towards police accountability. The fact that we ever doubted the outcome of this trial is a sign of how much work we have left to do. We will only build a more just an equitable nation by dismantling the racism ingrained in every level of our society, and Tuesday was a step in the right direction.
Governor Kate Brown: (05:48)
A few weeks ago I came before you to say that we were concerned we would have a fourth surge of COVID-19 in Oregon. Unfortunately, today that surge is here. Right now in the race between vaccines and variants the variants are gaining ground and have the upper hand. Today’s cases topped a thousand, with Oregon now ranking second in the nation for having the most rapid growth of infection spread. Our doctors and nurses are once again overwhelmed. Our hospitals are about to surpass 300 patients who are positive for COVID-19, crossing the threshold to place several of our counties into Extreme Risk.
Governor Kate Brown: (06:39)
Unfortunately, that means at least 12 counties are on the verge of having to reinstate restrictions on businesses like restaurants, bars, and gyms, and to limit social gatherings to very small groups again. We will analyze the data again early next week to see which counties may need to roll back into Extreme Risk. If the data indicates it’s necessary in light of this crisis, I am canceling the Warning Week and those counties will move into Extreme Risk starting next Friday, April 30th. Please know this is not a step I take lightly. However, it could be the last time we need to impose this level of restrictions given our vaccination trends and the virus’ behavior. At this moment we are moving backwards. Oregon needs to be moving forward.
Governor Kate Brown: (07:44)
That’s why I released my 10-Point Plan for Economic Recovery, and it’s why I’m working with businesses and worker advocates to pass important relief during the legislative session. Relief for the hardest hit businesses from unemployment insurance rate increases, investments in our manufacturers, and modernization of apprenticeships and workforce training programs, new relief for businesses that have never qualified for previous aid, and an expansion of the rent relief package, we passed in December to include businesses who own part or all of their storefronts. My goal is to get the state back on track to lift the restrictions this pandemic has forced upon us, so we can all return to seeing the people we love and doing the things we miss.
Governor Kate Brown: (08:42)
I think we can get there by the start of summer. But in order to reach this goal, we all need to work together to win this race. Here’s what must happen before we are able to fully reopen our economy. Oregonians need to get vaccinated. We need to reach a significant majority of Oregonians with a vaccine. We need to close the equity gap in our vaccine efforts, and vaccine supplies need to be readily available for all eligible Oregonians who want to be protected. Most importantly, and of grave concern right now, we need adequate hospital staffing and capacity for our families and friends in need of this care. Vaccines are the absolute key to moving Oregon forward. The overwhelming majority of our new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are people who have not yet been vaccinated.
Governor Kate Brown: (09:47)
We are seeing younger Oregonians in the hospital now, as well as people who had no underlying health conditions. I do think with all of us working together, that we can get to a place where we lift most restrictions and fully reopen our economy no later than the end of June. Common sense safety measures like mask wearing and maintaining six feet of distance will need to stay in place. We will all need to make smart choices over the next several weeks so that we can move forward and into post-pandemic life. That’s the hill on the horizon. We can climb it together. How quickly we get there is up to each and every one of us. Every Oregonian age 16 and older can now sign up to get your vaccine.
Governor Kate Brown: (10:41)
If you already haven’t had a chance to get vaccinated, make a plan to do so now. Once you get your shot, help your family, your friends, and your neighbors sign up for theirs, and spread the word. Join the #MyVaccineReason campaign and post your vaccine reason to social media. So let this be your takeaway, vaccines are your best protection against the variants, they are the best way to keep you out of the hospital, and they are the quickest way for us all to get back to the people and the things we miss and love the most. Oregon, it’s up to all of us to get there. Let’s move forward together. With that, I’d like to turn it over to Dr. Renee Edwards. She’s the Chief Medical Officer at OHSU. Dr. Edwards.
Dr. Renee Edwards: (11:45)
Thank you Governor Brown, and good morning everyone. I’ve had the privilege of sharing information with all of you as we’ve faced the challenges of COVID-19 together over the last year. I want to thank you for always being willing to listen and respond to what I and other healthcare professionals have had to say. It has been your ongoing willingness to wear a mask, limit social interactions, physically distance, and sacrifice, that has led Oregon to being one of the safest places in the country during this pandemic. But here we are again, facing a new COVID-19 surge that requires us to ask for your help. But we’re truly hopeful that based upon where we are in our vaccination pace, this will be the last such time.
Dr. Renee Edwards: (12:39)
We’ve all seen the most recent rising COVID-19 case counts coupled with the alarming rise of COVID-19 variant strains, such as the U.K. variant, that are more transmissible person to person. These variant strains can also lead to more severe illness. In our hospitals this is being seen as an increase in hospitalizations, especially among young, previously healthy individuals, that is once again stressing our bed capacity. We are forecasting that we will reach a critical capacity of 300 hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients across the state by the beginning of next week. Already, we are caring for a significant number of extremely ill patients with COVID- 19 that require a therapy called ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, the most advanced lung support treatment we have available in our ICUs. ECMO treatment is only offered in a few select hospitals in our state, and remains a precious and limited resource.
Dr. Renee Edwards: (13:52)
Over the past few weeks we are caring for more patients with COVID in our ICUs who are sicker, younger, and without underlying medical conditions. So many are requiring ECMO that we are running dangerously low to the point of not being able to offer it to the next patient in need anywhere in our state, and in truth, throughout the Pacific Northwest. As of this week, these increasing hospitalization numbers have caused the hospitals, health systems, and emergency response service providers in the Portland Metro area to once again begin meeting as a regional hospital collaborative to address ambulance transport demands and hospital capacity that is stressed by the rising COVID numbers, the amount of non-COVID care that also requires hospitalization, and the fatigue of our dedicated staff who have worked so hard over the last year.
Dr. Renee Edwards: (14:54)
I want to be clear that what is pressuring our capacity is not all COVID patients, but the increasing COVID numbers on top of the necessary care that we deliver every day. Our emergency departments are more than full, and we need your help. But there’s also good news. What makes this time different from when we faced the surges last March, July, and November is that this time we have the additional preventive measure and protection of vaccines. Based upon current vaccination rates, we will begin to win the race against rising COVID case numbers very soon. However, our current predictive models tell us that the next three weeks are absolutely instrumental. We have enjoyed a relative calm in the last two months that’s caused us to relax our behaviors, such that our current restrictions are too low to prevent escalating viral growth in the face of this advancing variant surge.
Dr. Renee Edwards: (16:02)
The choices we make in the next three weeks will directly influence how many hospitalizations and deaths we will see. No one wants to go back into an Extreme Risk state status with the restrictions that this places on Oregonians and our businesses. However, the difference between staying in our current behavior patterns, versus going to a more Extreme Risk environment, is roughly an additional 180 deaths and 450 hospitalizations statewide over the next three weeks. We may need to make that choice to save lives and hospital beds. The other good news is that we’re truly seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Previously, when we were facing restrictions we weren’t sure how long they would last. This time, we have vaccination on our side, such that in about three weeks, it is unlikely that the virus will be able to grow at-
Dr. Renee Edwards: (17:03)
It is unlikely that the virus will be able to grow at significant rates based upon the number of vaccinated Oregonians. We will know when we are at that point, based upon our vaccination numbers, and the decline in COVID-19 growth based upon your actions.
Dr. Renee Edwards: (17:20)
I am here again today, on behalf of our hospitals and health systems, to ask you to please respond to the need to more strictly comply with preventative measures, while we tackle what we hopefully will be our last surge. So we can protect our healthcare capacity, to care for not only COVID patients, but also the many conditions that we can treat within our hospitals and clinics every day. And thank you for remembering that beside every patient, is a healthcare professional who has been fighting this pandemic with all of you. Please wear your mask, even if you’re vaccinated, physically distance, avoid large social gatherings, wash your hands, and seek opportunities to be vaccinated.
Dr. Renee Edwards: (18:09)
I know that access to vaccine can still feel limited, and that many of you are anxiously trying to gain access to an appointment. We will continue to do our best to get the vaccine allocation we have, into your arms. Thank you and back to you, Governor Brown.
Governor Kate Brown: (18:26)
Thank you so much Dr. Edwards and I am now honored to turn it over to Olivia Quiroz. She is the Executive Director of the Oregon Latino Health Coalition. Olivia, the mike’s yours.
Olivia Quiroz: (18:42)
Thank you Governor Kate Brown for the opportunity to join you today. Almost 13 months after the start of this global pandemic, we have to acknowledge the painful journey this has been for our country, and our state. Our Latino community has been also disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. In Oregon 6% of vaccinations have gone to the [inaudible 00:19:08] they account for 33% of cases, 11% of deaths, and they’re 13% of the total population in the state. Some of these community members include our essential workforce, who continue to work in restaurants and grocery stores, and who are higher risk exposure to COVID-19.
Olivia Quiroz: (19:27)
As a result, the Oregon Latino Health Coalition and the Network of Latino Leaders across the state, have been at the forefront of ensuring a culturally and linguistically appropriate response to COVID-19 pandemic. Today we can find ourselves at a hopeful juncture. We are here in partnership with Governor Kate Brown, and the Oregon Health Authority, to close the vaccine disparity gap for the Latino community, and other communities of color.
Olivia Quiroz: (20:01)
We’re excited to work together to co-create an equitable vaccine distribution plan, that reflects the true needs and experiences of our community. Undertaking this plan and [accelerating 00:20:14] vaccines in our communities of color, will need support from every sector, including working closely with OHA, Health Systems, local public health departments, and culture specific community based organizations, who like our organization, place such an incredible, critical role in vaccine distribution, education, and outreach. To close a vaccine disparity gap, we will need to invest resources that will outlive educational campaigns, create culture specific vaccine clinics, and ensure that access to a vaccine is no longer a barrier.
Olivia Quiroz: (20:54)
We encourage everyone to take action and get vaccinated. I can personally attest that vaccines are safe, and it gives me a great sense of comfort that I am part of this effort, and that I can also be soon reunited with my family and members. Together we can move forward to reopen our economy, create healthy communities, and go back to some sense of normal.
Olivia Quiroz: (21:21)
Thank you Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority for all the efforts you have led to ensure every Oregonian has access to a vaccine. We appreciate Governor Kate’s Brown championing this Latino plan, and for her leadership. And with that, I will turn it over to Governor Kate Brown.
Governor Kate Brown: (21:40)
Thank you so much, Olivia. And with that I’m going to turn it over the Director Patrick Allen.
Patrick Allen: (21:48)
Thank you Governor Brown. I’m Patrick Allen, Director or the Oregon Health Authority. This morning I want to provide an update on vaccinations in Oregon, and look ahead to show how we can vaccinate a high percentage of adult residents by the start of summer, if we sustain our current rate of immunizations.
Patrick Allen: (22:03)
In addition to our vaccine update, I’m also joined by Dr. Sidelinger who will tell you about the red alert we see in the latest COVID-19 forecast. The COVID-19 virus is surging and it is threatening to send more people, and younger people to the hospital than we’ve seen before in this pandemic.
Patrick Allen: (22:20)
I want to underscore Governor Brown’s call to action. We are entering the period of high risk as we try to beat back the latest wave of COVID-19 infections. But we can safely reopen before summery, if enough of us get vaccinated to protect ourselves and each other. But it’s not enough to hit a target percentage of people who are vaccinated. We can’t leave any community behind. We’ve continued to work with partners who served the Latino/Latina communities, such as Olivia, and we’re seeing evidence that the tools we’re using are boosting the numbers. We’ll continue to expand vaccinations through federally qualified health centers, events for migrant and seasonal farm workers, and food processing industry workers, mobile van outreach, and local events sponsored by community partners.
Patrick Allen: (23:01)
In addition, I want to acknowledge the sad announcement we made yesterday in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We are investigating the case of an Oregon resident who tragically died after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. At this time, we do not know if there is a causal link between her vaccination, and her death. Her case is part of the federal safety review of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in connection with extremely rare blood clots. I do want to express my deepest sympathies to her family. At the same time, I want to ensure all Oregonians that the federal Johnson & Johnson safety review shows that our monitoring systems are working to promptly identify and investigate adverse events that may follow a vaccination, determine if there are health risks, and provide healthcare providers and the public guidance based on the medical evidence. How Oregon deploys the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will depend on what we hear from the National Medical experts delivering in today’s federal review. Now if we go ahead and go to the slides and bring up the first slide. Now let’s start with the current numbers. According to the CDC, half of Oregon’s adult population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As of yesterday, the total in Oregon’s Alert Immunization Information system was 1,657,272 doses. The CDC’s data is slightly higher because it includes vaccinations administered by the Veterans Administration and other federal agencies. That total represents 50% of Oregonians who are 18 or older. When you look at those numbers compared to the total Oregon population, 40% of all Oregonians have received at least one shot. More than one million Oregonians are fully vaccinated.
Patrick Allen: (24:47)
Oregon has completed full two dose vaccinations, or single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines for 1,000,830. Overall, more than one in four Oregonian, 26%, are now fully vaccinated. Over the past week, our daily average of shots in arms remains about 30,000 doses administered per day. As of yesterday, Oregon is averaging 34,328 doses administered each day. Our rolling average is down from last week, due to the pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccinations.
Patrick Allen: (25:21)
As of today, three in four seniors have been vaccinated. 573,803 people who are 65 and older, have received at least one shot. Oregon ranks 30th in the nation in percentage of seniors who’ve begun their vaccination series, and 30th in the nation in percentage of seniors who have been fully vaccinated.
Patrick Allen: (25:39)
Let’s go to the next slide please. Now let’s look at the number of doses we expect to get from the federal government in coming weeks. As this slide shows, we’re still on track to have enough doses to provide first shot protection to the entire adult population of Oregon by July 4th. While Johnson & Johnson supply disruptions and safety reviews have slowed our pace, these disruptions won’t stop us from being in a position to reach a significant majority of Oregonians this summer, as long as Oregonians continue to demand vaccines at the current rate. Next week, we expect to receive approximately 150,000 prime doses of vaccine, when we include expected doses from the federal pharmacy program.
Patrick Allen: (26:19)
Until we learn more about Johnson & Johnson, we’re not projecting any additional doses in our forecast. We are expecting to see some increases in the federal pharmacy program, and in federal allocation to FQHC’s.
Patrick Allen: (26:32)
Next slide please. Now let’s look at how those allocations can translate into vaccinations. This slide shows our current trajectory of COVID-19 first dose immunizations for Oregonians 18 and above. These numbers are also based on CDC data. Right now, we’re right at 50% of adult Oregonians who’ve received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or a single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Over the past week, we’ve seen our statewide vaccination rate increase by about six percentage points. If we continue at this pace, three in four Oregonians could receive at least their first vaccination by the beginning of summer. By the fourth of July, eight out of ten Oregonians could receive at least first dose protection.
Patrick Allen: (27:18)
But sustaining that pace depends on Oregonians continuing to choose to get vaccinated, for all the many reasons that have moved more than one and a half million Oregonians, who’ve already made that choice. Next slide please. We know demand is greater in some counties, than in others. In others vaccination rates have lagged. The top five counties that have vaccinated the highest percentage of adults are; Hood River, Lincoln, Benton, Deschutes, and Multnomah counties. Each of these counties has vaccinated more than half their eligible populations. Hood River County leads the state. Healthcare providers there have vaccinated nearly six in ten people who are 16 or older. The counties that have seen the lowest uptake among adults are; Lake, Umatilla, Malheur, Gilliam, and Douglas Counties. Each of these counties has vaccinated fewer than 35% of their eligible populations based on data in the alert system.
Patrick Allen: (28:14)
OHA is working with counties to lower barriers to vaccinations, redeploy doses to meet demand, and ensure that counties are closing the under vaccination gap, especially for Latino and Latina residents in their communities. We’re working with providers to ensure they administer doses within seven days, recognizing that some community events may take longer to plan. Eliminate any requirements that people show Social Security Numbers at vaccination sites, and deliver clear and consistent messages that you do not need insurance to get vaccinated. And allow walk-up vaccinations where possible.
Patrick Allen: (28:47)
We’re also continuing our intensive and targeted direct and digital outreach in communities where we’ve seen lower uptake rates, engaging people through the voices of neighbors, local doctors and other healthcare providers.
Patrick Allen: (28:59)
Now, I want to come back to the slide that shows our current vaccination trajectory, which illustrates the promise and the peril we face at this moment. Governor Brown talked about the hill we need to climb, this is it. Today, this relentless shape shifting virus is trying to fight its way back, and regain control over our lives.
Patrick Allen: (29:20)
So many people are understandably tired. So many people are understandably want to return to the familiar joys and routines of pre-pandemic life; a worry-free visit with an elderly parents, the energy of a crowded concert, the welcoming face of a friend that’s not hidden behind a mask. I’m one of those people, but we can’t give up. We can stave off this virus, and we can keep it from coming back. The best way to put the pandemic behind us, is to take this simple direct action, get vaccinated. We can reach a critical mass of immunized Oregonians, enjoy a safe summer, and get back to the people we love, and the things we love to do, if all of us does our part. Get the facts, make a plan, and get vaccinated. Go to COVIDVaccine.org and .gov for information.
Patrick Allen: (30:07)
Now let me turn it over to Dr. Sidelinger.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (30:12)
Thank you Dr. Allen. The spread of COVID-19 is accelerating throughout the state; daily cases, percent positivity, and hospitalizations continue along an alarming ascent. A fourth wave is indeed upon us. Our newest modeling indicates that the rate of transmission, surpassed the most pessimistic scenario three weeks ago. And if that trend continues unabated, [inaudible 00:30:38] hospitals risk being swamped by virus stricken patients.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (30:43)
Last week I reported that daily cases of COVID-19 more than doubled since early March to a seven day moving daily average of 595 cases. As of yesterday, the seven day average was 709, a 20% increase. The latest COVID-19 report ending April 18th, reported 4,742 new cases, marking the fourth consecutive week with 20 plus percentage gains. This is driven by more transitional variants, and our actions. As of today, the OHA is reported 179,120 COVID-19 cases in Oregon, and 2,476 COVID- 19 related deaths.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (31:32)
This is heartbreaking. My thoughts go out to everyone who has suffered a loss to the virus. The percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive, is on a similarly troubling trajectory. Climbing from a seven day moving average of 3.9% in early March, to 5.7% as of yesterday. The deluge in new cases is fueling a sharp rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations. As of this morning, there were 276 virus stricken patients in Oregon’s hospitals. A 39% increase over last week, and 109% increase since March 1st.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (32:10)
Additionally, we’re seeing severe illness on the rise. Since April 1st, there were 39 COVID-19 patients in the Intensive Care Unit. Today, there are 64. We are approaching a statewide hospitalization level that could send counties back into higher risk troubles. We can not let the virus gain an upper hand.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (32:31)
We all possess the tools to slow the virus, by continuing to wear a mask, gather more safely and maintaining physical distancing, and of course by getting vaccinated as soon as possible. Before I get to the modeling, let me briefly address yesterdays announcement concerning the death of the Oregon woman following immunization with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This is a sad and tragic occurrence, and I want to offer my condolences to her family, friends, and all who knew or loved her. She developed a rare, but serious blood clot within two weeks following vaccination. The same condition that prompted the call for a pause in administering the vaccine. Her death is being reviewed by the Center for Disease Control, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who are assessing the potential risk and benefits of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine right now.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (33:22)
We recommend that people who have received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, watch for symptoms including severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath in the 21 days following their vaccination, and notify their doctor if they should develop these symptoms. Our nationwide system for safely monitoring vaccines [inaudible 00:33:40] and adverse events, even those that are very rare, are flagged for the national vaccine adverse events reporting system. The frequency of these reports at the time of pause is extremely low, about one in a million.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (33:55)
And finally, let me turn to some other news; the most recent report indicates that as of April 7th, the statewide reproduction number was estimated at 1.-
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (34:03)
[inaudible 00:34:00]. The statewide reproduction number was estimated at 1.24, meaning for every person carrying the virus, they were spreading it to more than one person. The resulting forecast shows us the same transmission rate, new daily hospitalizations with increase at 38 on May 11th. If the transmission rates rise by 20% on par with what we’ve seen in the recent weeks, daily new hospitalizations would climb to 68 per day, potentially overwhelming available beds for those who are most sick. That projected level of increased hospitalizations threatens to severely test our hospitals and risk a return to surge necessitated practices, such as deferring elective procedures. This is a risk we cannot afford to take. The framework Governor brown outlined earlier is within reach. We’re going to have to make changes to get there. Some difficult days await us. How difficult and how long it lasts depends on our actions over the next few weeks. A lot of our friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors are getting vaccinated every day.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (35:09)
The temptation to relax our vigilance, especially after getting vaccinated, is real, so here’s the balancing act. The virus is relentless. It continues to sicken our friends and neighbors. It threatens to swamp our hospitals and reverse the hard won progress we’ve achieved in the previous surges, by wearing our masks, keeping our distancing and limiting higher risk indoor gatherings, and now in the case of more than a million Oregonians getting vaccinated. Several times during this pandemic Oregonians have stepped up to turn back a resurgent tide. We must prevail again. Until we see enough Oregonians vaccinated to stop the spread, you must continue with other preventative measures. Vaccinations are finally open to all of us. Thanks to everyone who’s received the vaccination. I urge everyone to make a plan and get vaccinated. And now I’ll turn things over to come to Governor Brown.
Governor Brown: (36:04)
Thank you, Dr. Sidelinger, and thanks Director Allen. And with that, Liz, we’re happy to take questions.
I thank you, Governor. Let’s start questions today with Camila Orti with KPTV. Go ahead.
Camila Orti: (36:18)
Hi. Thank you for taking my question. I wanted to see if we could dive into the hospitalization data a little bit deeper. I know that we’re seeing outbreaks among people in their 20s and 30s. Can you talk about how that’s being reflected in hospitalization specifically? Are we seeing more people in that age group hospitalized with severe COVID cases? Are we still seeing people in different age groups going to the hospital? Just wanted some clarity on that.
Governor Brown: (36:47)
Thank you, Camila. And I’ll turn that over to Dr. Edwards and Dr. Sidelinger.
Dr. Renee Edwards: (36:54)
Thank you Camilla for that question. It’s an important one. As I mentioned my comments, it is a true statement that the ages of Oregonians that we are seeing hospitalized now is younger. We do still see the full range of ages in our hospital, but the median age has definitely drifted lower. And the underlying theme is not being vaccinated. As we know, vaccination is protective for COVID-19 and that’s why we are urging everyone today to please make a plan for how to get vaccinated. As Director Allen shared with us, we’ve done a good job of getting our older Oregonians vaccinated based upon their eligibility earlier in the framework. And now it’s time for everyone to have the opportunity to be vaccinated because we are seeing those younger patients, although the distribution continues across the age range.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (37:59)
This is Dean Sidelinger. I’d like to add to that. The biggest percentage increase in hospitalized patients has been amongst those adults who are 50 to 64, and it’s followed by an increase in the 35 to 49. So these are individuals who are being hospitalized at larger rates than they were before. Individuals who are presenting with severe symptoms, as you’ve heard, aren’t needing the highest level of care. This is a shift in the age range, but we are seeing some people [inaudible 00:38:29] across the age range. And it’s yet another reminder that make that appointment, make a plan to get your vaccine, and follow some protective measures in the meantime, and that can help assure that we have quality healthcare for everyone who needs it in Oregon.
Thanks, Camila. We will go next to Gary Warner with EO Media. Go ahead, Gary. Gary, are you there?
Gary Warner: (39:01)
Yes. Hi, sorry, I was muted. Governor Newsome down in California has said that all students in the UC and Cal State systems, which are massive, must be immunized before coming to class in the fall. Would you follow that kind of requirement for the students? And also, we’ve gone past the time of asking and start telling. Certainly here in Eugene, in the university area, I don’t see a lot of traction on the weekends with the message of being careful.
Governor Brown: (39:41)
So Gary, our colleges and universities require vaccines of other types for the safety of their staff, their professors, and of course other students. And I think it absolutely makes sense for our universities and the state of Oregon to require those vaccines. We know that these vaccines are the best protection against hospitalization and death. And I think it makes sense for universities to move forward on that.
Gary Warner: (40:12)
Are you ready to make an order of that rather than just a thought that it’s something that should happen?
Governor Brown: (40:18)
I’d certainly want to talk with the universities and community colleges first.
Thanks, Gary. Next, we’ll go to Bradley Parks with OPB. Go ahead, Bradley.
Bradley Parks: (40:32)
Hi. Thanks for taking my question. We reported in mid-March about sort of the double edged sword of Oregon’s COVID success early in the pandemic. And I’m wondering if perhaps what we’re seeing now, the increase in cases at such an alarming rate, is partly due to relatively few people having COVID earlier on in the pandemic.
Governor Brown: (40:58)
Bradley, I’ll turn that question over to our physicians, Dr. Sidelinger and Dr. Edwards. Dr. Sidelinger, do you want to take that one, please?
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (41:11)
Yeah. Sorry, can you repeat the question? I was trying to manage two things. You caught me.
Bradley Parks: (41:19)
Sure. We reported in mid-March about sort of the double edged sword of our early success in Oregon in combating COVID-19. Cases were among the lowest in the country at that point. And I’m wondering if this flip that we’ve seen has anything to do with relatively few Oregonians having COVID earlier on in the pandemic.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (41:41)
Thank you. Thank you for repeating that. I think certainly our success early on in the pandemic has led to less people who’ve recovered from COVID-19, meaning less people who have natural immunity. But what we have to remember is there’s no state where more people got sick and more people were hospitalized and more people died. So there’s a high price to pay for natural immunity. What we have now is a tool that can provide that same level of protection to individuals, vaccinations, without the risk of being hospitalized, some without the risk of serious complications that follow COVID-19. So we have the tools right now that go into effect immediately, wearing your mask, limiting our high risk indoor gatherings and keeping our distance within the next several weeks, while we wait for everyone to get a vaccine in their arms and have that protection. Certainly we do have to fight a little harder right now because of that, and it also means that many less families have suffered from the loss of a loved one, than would have if we’d seen those terrible increases in infections that several other states saw.
Bradley Parks: (42:47)
Thanks, Bradley. Next, we’ll go to Brett Taylor with KDRV. Go ahead, Brett.
Brett Taylor: (42:57)
Hi there, Governor. Thank you for taking my question. I kind of wanted to touch a little bit more obviously on that J&J investigation. I know that obviously the CDC is currently looking into that, but I guess my question is have there been any other cases like this, whether it’s deaths or serious adverse effects, something like a blood clot being linked to any of the other vaccines administrations, either across the US or here in Oregon as well?
Governor Brown: (43:24)
Brett, I’m going to turn that question over to Director Allen and Dr. Sidelinger at the Oregon Health Authority.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (43:33)
This is Dean Sidelinger. I’ll start with an answer to that question. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System is a system that’s in place to monitor all vaccines. And it’s a requirement for providers to report in any serious adverse event for any deaths following a vaccine, whether or not they think they’re related to the vaccine. This is a way that we can pick up rare conditions. For now, what we’ve seen is that following within two weeks of a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, that several individuals have developed low platelet counts [inaudible 00:44:09] part of our blood, as well as a serious blood clot that has resulted in hospitalization and tragically some death. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is examining that data right now to see if there’s an association with the vaccine, and to see what the risks or benefits of continuing with Johnson & Johnson vaccine under the previous recommendations or revised recommendations.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (44:34)
For our other vaccines that are approved for emergency authorization, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, he has not seen clots or serious events like this following that. There was a slight increase in anaphylaxis, or severe allergic reaction, but even that was extremely low and extremely rare. These vaccines that we’re using here in Oregon and across the country are safe, and they are effective at preventing COVID-19 and the multitude of complications that come from that. So people should feel confident that when they call to make an appointment or walk up or drive up to get a vaccine, that it is safe. And it’s the best way we have of getting out of this pandemic and protecting our hospital capacities, so that it’s there for you if you develop COVID, have a heart attack or involved in a motor vehicle crash. These vaccines are safe and we’re not seeing those complications following other vaccinations.
Brett Taylor: (45:26)
Thank you, Dr. Sidelinger, really appreciate it.
Thanks, Brett. Next question we’ll go to Aimee Green from the Oregonian. Go ahead, Aimee.
Aimee Green: (45:44)
So Governor, when you talk about the possibility of reopening by the end of June, can you elaborate on that? What does that mean? What would that look like?
Governor Brown: (45:53)
So my goal is to begin the reopening by the end of June. What it would look like is making sure that we get a solid or a significant majority of Oregonians vaccinated. That means closing the equity gap. It means making sure that every single Oregonian has access to a vaccination. And it also means, frankly, ensuring that our hospital bed capacity and the doctors and nurses and other staff that make sure that those patients are taken care of, that we have adequate hospital bed capacity. So right now our focus is on the numbers, the crisis we’re seeing in terms of the surge, and preserving hospital bed capacity. And at the same time, every Oregonian can make a difference by getting vaccinated as quickly as possible. And if you’re not vaccinated yet, to make a plan and get it done.
Aimee Green: (46:56)
Yeah, I apologize. I want to be more specific. When I said what would it look like, I meant do you mean that the county risk levels, pretty much everybody would be at low, that there would be indoor dining, outdoor dining, swimming pools, regular life.
Governor Brown: (47:12)
So Aimee, we’re hoping to get back to pre-pandemic life. And again, that depends upon what happens with the virus and the variants, and the key to making that happen is Oregonians getting vaccinated as quickly as possible.
Thanks, Aimee. We will go next to Pat Doris with KGW. Go ahead, Pat.
Pat Doris: (47:48)
Trying to unmute myself. Thank you. Governor, I have a two part question. Aimee basically asked the second part on what would be the metrics. I think we heard you there, and then we had a little technical problem at the very beginning. I wonder if you could talk about your concerns about counties being forced back into the extreme risk level, and will you alter any of the rules to sort of soften the impact economically if that happens?
Governor Brown: (48:15)
Thanks, Pat. What is really, really clear is that our fourth surge is here, and our doctors and nurses are overwhelmed, and we’re nearing hospital bed capacity, which is a criteria for moving into extreme risk. I know this is really, really hard, and that’s why I’m doing everything I can to work with the legislature to get additional resources to these businesses that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. At this point in time, extreme risk would require closure of restaurants and bars, for example. And I know it’s really hard for these businesses. Many of these businesses are iconic Oregon businesses. They’re really the heart and soul of our economy, so I’m going to do everything I can.
Governor Brown: (49:08)
The good news is we have the financial resources from the Biden-Harris rescue plan to help, and we can hopefully move those resources quickly into those communities and into those businesses. And the other good news is that we have vaccines, and we didn’t have that before, and hopefully that will make our job in terms of the safety restrictions, make them shorter in terms of duration. And I would like to have Dr. Edwards speak to that.
Dr. Renee Edwards: (49:45)
Thank you, Governor. As I mentioned, when we were looking at restrictions earlier in the pandemic, it was often difficult to predict how long those restrictions might last, how long it would take for us to, as you’ve heard this term, flatten the curve. The good news about this time around is that everything we know right now around our predictive forecasting suggests that what we really need to pay attention to is the next three weeks. It’s the critical point of having enough Oregonians vaccinated, such that it’ll prevent the ongoing growth of the virus within our community.
Dr. Renee Edwards: (50:24)
And we believe, based upon our current rate of vaccination, coupled with the anticipated vaccines, that we will get into arms over the next three weeks. It will begin crossing that threshold in about three weeks time. We’re feeling some confidence. I’m somewhat hesitant to say this based upon the pandemic we’ve all faced, but we’re feeling some confidence that this will be the last time we’ll have to come to you with this question of a significant surge requiring extreme restrictions. And if we can do it one more time, on behalf of all of us, then hopefully we’ll be getting back to…
Dr. Renee Edwards: (51:03)
All of us, then hopefully we’ll be getting back to a better place in the summer.
Patrick Allen: (51:07)
Okay, thanks. And just a brief follow-up, Governor, it sounds like no change in the rules. If high risk is required, it will be imposed?
Governor Brown: (51:14)
Look, I’m meeting with all the counties. We’ll continue to monitor the data very closely early next week. And a decision will be announced early next week.
Patrick Allen: (51:24)
Got it. Thank you.
Speaker 1: (51:27)
Thanks, Pat. We have time for a few more questions. We’ll go next to Genevieve Reaume with KATU. Go ahead, Genevieve.
Genevieve Reaume: (51:36)
Thanks for taking my question. I appreciate it. I have a few, because I’m here on behalf of multiple colleagues, but the first one relatively simple, how do you combat vaccine hesitancy considering the developments with J&J?
Governor Brown: (51:48)
Great question. I think the plan is very straight forward and that’s through educational efforts. We know that these vaccines are safe, trusted, and effective. They are the key to reopening our economy and they are the best way you can prevent yourself from ending up in the hospital, from landing in the hospital, and prevent deaths. So we are going to continue to work with our partners, our community-based organizations, businesses across the state. And the Oregon Health Authority is going to lead that effort. And I’m going to turn it over to Director Allen to talk about their efforts.
Patrick Allen: (52:33)
Yeah. Thank you, Governor. Just a couple of things to add to that. First, it’s interesting that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, based on it being a one and done vaccine had become a little bit of a preferred vaccine in certain quarters. And so I think that offsets a little bit some of the dynamic around hesitancy. There was also a national survey out within the last couple of days that indicated that while certainly this situation contributes to hesitancy for some. For others, it was actually a comforting sign that the system of monitoring these events, and reporting them, and investigating them is vigorous and works. And so in that survey, it indicated that there were people for whom their hesitancy actually went down as a result of that.
Patrick Allen: (53:14)
But the Governor hit on all the main points, and whether it’s overcoming hesitancy or just getting people to think about wanting to get vaccinated, even if they don’t have a particular reason, not to, it’s communicating in a wide array of channels, trying to get to people where they are, be able to find out why aren’t people getting vaccinated and what do we need to do to provide better access, easier access, more local resources, and really reach them with messengers that they trust and will listen to. Often their, their primary healthcare provider is the very best messenger to have a conversation from someone that they see periodically and get their healthcare from. And so, as we expand more places that vaccines occur, we think those conversations will be easier to have happen as well.
Genevieve Reaume: (53:59)
And the second question that I have is somewhat a follow-up to Pat Dorrison [inaudible 00:54:03], but are there plans in place to adjust the risk levels? Does it make sense to you the same risk levels and impose the same rules we’ve been following for the past year if we now have a working vaccine?
Governor Brown: (54:14)
So that’s a really great question. I think the harsh reality is right now we’re facing a forced surge. Cases are rising, and most concerningly, our hospital bed capacity and our healthcare staffing capacity is close to reaching limits. The good news is should we have to impose extreme risk safety protocol next week because of the risks to our hospital bed capacity, the good news is it’s likely to be for a much shorter period of time. So this is really, really challenging. It’s really hard for Oregonians. We all love going to our favorite restaurants and getting out and seeing our families and friends. This is really, really hard for our businesses and our economy. And as I have said, the best thing we can all do right now is get vaccinated. And if you haven’t gotten vaccinated, make a plan immediately. We really appreciate the fact that our partners are stepping up in communities around the state to make this happen both equitably and effectively.
Genevieve Reaume: (55:29)
I apologize for jumping in there, but one important follow-up, under the current rules, it’s mostly businesses that are impacting. What I’ve heard from health officials with OHA and Clackamas County, one of the counties at risk of entry, extreme risk, is the surge in cases, partially due to social gatherings and pandemic fatigue. Those businesses at risk of shutting down are the very places where the mandates are enforced. What evidence is there to support restricting operations in those businesses?
Governor Brown: (55:56)
Look, we are seeing community wide surge in the virus and it is impacting our hospital bed capacity and our staffing capacity. I’ll let Dr. Sidelinger talk about the details in terms of the impacts of restaurants, and bars, and other Oregon businesses.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (56:15)
Thank you, Governor Brown and Genevieve. What we see is that in bars and restaurants, indoor gatherings, in those locations, people can’t wear their masks, and we lose one of our tools. What we also know is that people who gather with friends and family, either in private parties in bars and restaurants, and in another events tend to do so multiple times over the week. We can’t always pin down transmission to a specific activity. But as restrictions were lifted and people, as you said, became fatigued with the rules, they do gather with friends and loved ones. They let their guard down. And this often happens in some businesses as well as in private settings.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger: (56:58)
And the only way to control the live community spread that we’re seeing across the state across multiple counties and multiple communities is to implement rules that help to limit some of that transmission, but rules and limits in and of themselves don’t control the virus. It depends on everyone taking action, taking precautions, protecting themself, the people their gathering with, and their loved one, and getting a vaccine. If we all do this together, we can flatten this curve. We can make it lower. We can not see the tremendous impact that our Midwestern neighbors saw over the last month. And we can get through this with less Oregonians being sick and less Oregonians their lives to this ongoing pandemic.
Governor Brown: (57:43)
I’m obviously very concerned about the impacts on our businesses, both large and small, in terms of these safety measures that the pandemic forces upon us. And that’s why I’m working with legislative leaders and others to get resources to these businesses that have been disproportionately impacted. I think that the good news is, as Dr. Edwards said, we have vaccines. There is a light at the end of this tunnel and that each one of us can continue to make a difference. If we all continue to wear our masks, maintain social distancing, wash our hands, get vaccinated, and support your local businesses by ordering takeout, by ordering items online, all of that helps to continue to support our businesses and our communities.
Genevieve Reaume: (58:39)
Speaker 1: (58:41)
Thanks, Genevieve. We have time for just one, maybe two more questions. We’ll go next to Rachel Monahan from Willamette Week. Go ahead, Rachel.
Governor Kate Brown: (58:48)
Hi, Governor. I feel that what’s been presented today about the state of the virus and the state of what our hospitals are facing is perhaps the most alarming I’ve heard in some months. And I’m wondering, Dr. Edwards said that hospitals are running short on ECMO machines. I’m wondering if there’s that level of concern, why aren’t you acting today to impose restrictions if those are necessary to preserve hospital capacity?
Governor Brown: (59:29)
Just to be very clear, I am eliminating the warning week, and should the numbers warrant it, early next week, as I said, we’re going to be monitoring the data extremely closely and should the data warranted early next week, we will notify businesses and communities that as appropriate that they will be moving into extreme risk. The bottom line is this is always a balance of lives and livelihoods, and businesses and Oregonians need a sense of predictability. That’s why I’m saying today this is essentially your warning. Should cases continue to rise and should we reach capacity in our hospital systems, there will be several counties moving into extreme risk next week. It would be on Friday.
Governor Kate Brown: (01:00:25)
I guess it’s a question for Dr. Edwards then how close are they to running out of machines for people who need them or how many people have already not been put on ECMO, because there’s a-
Governor Brown: (01:00:42)
Dr. Edwards, would you like to respond to that question, please?
Dr. Renee Edwards: (01:00:45)
Thank you. First, I want to reassure Oregonians at this point in time, there has been no one who has been denied ECMO. The other important thing to realize as well, our state resources are critically important. Because this is a scarce resource, we also exist across a collaborative that includes Washington, but Washington is also facing shortages. And so we work together with also sites within the state of Washington with regard to ECMO. But no one has been denied this resource to this point in time. I’m sounding the alarm that we’re getting critically close, which is why we’re bringing this message to you today. And I also want to emphasize that independent of restrictions that the Governor may or may not need to place on our businesses, all of us today can do preventive measures to protect us. Always wear your mask, even if vaccinated, physically distanced at six feet, avoid social gatherings, and wash your hands. And those are preventive measures that all of us can start today based upon this information that will continue to protect us and start flattening that curve immediately.
Governor Kate Brown: (01:01:57)
So how close are we to capacity in the region?
Dr. Renee Edwards: (01:02:05)
So it’s a difficult question to answer, because frankly in our hospitals, we’re constantly managing admissions, and discharges, and flexibility within the system. But I will tell you, as I said, that we are now meeting again as a regional hospital collaborative in order to balance the volume of care that’s required across the Portland metro area. And we are seeing levels of patients coming into our emergency rooms that are causing us to consider begin activating our surge plans, including cutting back on elective surgery. We have many triggers to pull when we are at capacity, but some of those triggers cause us to scale back on routine hospital care that’s also necessary in order for us to manage the COVID surge.
Governor Kate Brown: (01:03:04)
So I guess one last follow-up question. If hospitals are hitting the point, I’m not sure there’s anything that hospitals can do to to free up capacity on ECMO, because that seems largely a COVID-19 issue at this point, but how close are hospitals then, how many days away are hospitals from needing to cancel elective surgeries?
Dr. Renee Edwards: (01:03:34)
Well, and again, that varies by the hospitals. I can tell you that two of the hospitals systems in the Portland metro area are already starting to scale back elective surgical care. And this is a day by day, almost hour by hour situation in managing hospital capacity and scaling back elective surgery, again is one opportunity for managing our census. And we have several others that we continue to deploy in order to provide care for Oregonians.
Governor Brown: (01:04:06)
Here’s my message, as we close out, and that is each one of us can make a difference in the coming days. We can all follow the safety protocol that we’ve been doing, frankly, a really good job at following over the last year. Wear our masks maintain your distancing, keep your social gatherings small. Any question, take it outside. And please get vaccinated, it’s the key to preserving our hospital bed capacity and making sure we still have adequate number of doctors, and nurses, and physicians, assistants across the state. Get vaccinated. It’s also the key to reopening and preserving the small businesses that we love. Thank you, Liz. Thanks, everybody. Have a good weekend and stay safe.
Speaker 1: (01:04:57)