As coronavirus cases surge in Oregon, 15 counties are pushed into the state’s most severe level of restrictions.
More than half of American states are reporting significant declines in coronavirus cases, but in Oregon, a new wave of the virus has pushed a third of the state’s counties to tighten lockdown restrictions.
Oregon is reporting about 816 new cases a day, a roughly 31 percent increase from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations have also risen by about 42 percent in the same period. Deaths from the virus, which tend to lag behind cases for several weeks, remain relatively low.
“Here is the reality Oregon is facing right now: cases are widespread, driven by new, more contagious variants,” the state’s governor, Kate Brown, said at a news conference on Friday. “Oregon leads the nation for our rate of increase in cases over the last two weeks.”
A total of 15 counties, including some in the Portland metro area, moved back into the fourth and most extreme level of restrictions on Friday, after meeting the state’s threshold. In these counties, indoor dining is now prohibited and businesses such as gyms and movie theaters must significantly reduce their capacity.
The new limits are likely to prompt a political backlash. Some states that have seen recent surges, like in Michigan where cases have leveled off but total numbers still remain high, have chosen not to tighten restrictions again and instead have asked residents to take greater precautions in an effort to halt the spread of the virus.
Ms. Brown said she was optimistic that the state would be able to get ahead of the variants over the next two to three weeks, estimating that Oregon could lift statewide restrictions and return to some degree of normalcy by the end of June.
The governor urged Oregonians to get vaccinated, calling it the key to fully reopening the state’s economy.
Public health experts have suggested a combination of factors could be driving the surge, including more contagious variants, increased travel during spring break and the loosening of state guidelines before vaccination rates had sufficiently risen. As of Saturday, nearly 30 percent of the state’s population was fully vaccinated and 44 percent had received at least one dose, according to a New York Times vaccine tracker.
“We didn’t get down far enough,” Ken Stedman, a biology professor at Portland State University, told local news outlet KATU, referring to case numbers, “and now we seem to be going back up again.”