The Gomberg Report: State Rep. David Gomberg offers insight on governor’s ‘freeze’

David Gomberg

I’ve been hearing from many of you about the Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID “freeze.”

I have a number of concerns about these new requirements. For example. why can we take food home and eat with small groups but not at the restaurant? But I also understand what Gov. Brown is hoping to accomplish. Dramatic short-term efforts are needed to reduce a significant increase in COVID cases and the availability of hospital beds for those that need them.

We continue to see days with over 1,500 cases and increases in fatalities. 

Certainly not all people testing positive show serious symptoms, need hospital services, or use one of Oregon’s intensive care unit beds. But on Nov. 1, only 24 percent of those beds were available. Of the non-ICU adult hospital beds in the state, 14 percent were available. So not only are positive cases increasing, serious cases requiring hospital care are increasing as well. If the state remains on this path, hospitals in Oregon could reach capacity by mid-December. 

In the past week, the metro area has seen a 57 percent increase in COVID-positive patients, outpacing any other large city on the West Coast. Nearly half of the recent new cases were in Multnomah County.

I share your frustration that problems in Portland are resulting in business closures and other consequences here. But let’s be clear, lots of people from the valley vacation here. When we get seriously ill, we are sent to hospitals in the valley that are filling up. And surely, we still care about other Oregonians and not just those at the coast.

On Wednesday, Nov. 1, Gov. Brown announced a two-week freeze throughout Oregon and a four-week freeze in Multnomah County. Here is what the freeze means:

• Limit social get-togethers (indoors and outdoors) to no more than six people, from no more than two households.

• Limit faith-based organizations to a maximum of 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors.

• Limit eating and drinking establishments to take-out and delivery only.

• Close gyms and fitness organizations.

• Close venues that host indoor or outdoor events.

• Require all businesses to mandate work-from-home to the greatest extent possible and close offices to the public.

• Prohibit indoor visiting in long-term care facilities.

The two-week freeze does not change current health and safety protocols for personal services such as barbershops and hair salons, congregate homeless sheltering, outdoor recreation and sports, youth programs, childcare, K-12 schools and sports, and higher education — all of which can continue operating under previous guidance issued by the Oregon Health Authority.

After two weeks, the governor and public health officials will evaluate whether the freeze needs to be extended in some counties where the virus is more prevalent.

The new restrictions are certainly frustrating. And that is particularly true for affected businesses and their employees. What we know is that the COVID spike is being driven not by commercial activity, but by social interactions, parties and family gatherings. And what we also know is that private activities are more difficult to monitor than public ones. Unfortunately, poor behavior by some is affecting the commerce and convenience of everyone.

Unlike earlier orders, the governor has suggested that directives be enforced and violators could be cited. Local law enforcement has been encouraged to use an “education-first approach.” 

I don’t really believe the party police will be knocking on doors Thanksgiving weekend. Criminal charges for violating an executive order during the pandemic have been rare. But if large, informal gatherings are the problem, addressing them directly is an option.

A coalition of Oregon businesses has responded, asking the governor to consider alternatives to business closures. They cite “the very real impact such a decision will have on struggling businesses, the employees who may lose their jobs, and our already troubled state economy.” 

Some of their proposals are:

• Implement a comprehensive COVID-19 public information campaign to address social and community spread.

• Develop a comprehensive testing plan to increase rapid testing and contact tracing statewide.

• Early establishment of a comprehensive vaccine distribution plan.

I was pleased to see Gov. Brown propose we allocate $55 million in financial assistance to counties for businesses in the hospitality industry and those hurt by the freeze order. Funds will be based on population, with each county receiving a minimum of $500,000. That will be helpful but does not address the fact that our coastal cities serve and service tourist populations much larger than our residential numbers reflect. Should Lincoln City, with 9,170 people, receive the same support as Eagle Point (Jackson County) with 9,554? I think not!

The legislative Emergency Board met last week and approved more than $128 million to help Oregonians impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This included funding for child care providers, Oregonians in need of shelter, small businesses, long-term care providers and victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Unfortunately, social gatherings continue to fuel transmission. The freeze will obviously will have a major impact on Thanksgiving. I know that many of you have held off seeing close family members with the hope that we’d be past this pandemic by now. My family plans are disrupted as well.

Please consider how our traditions of travel and increased socialization around the holidays could impact our loved ones. As difficult as these choices are, when we look out for one another, we are saving lives. If Oregonians collectively wear masks, keep physical distance, restrict social gatherings and maintain good hand hygiene to slow the spread of the virus, new cases will decline.

When does it all end? All eyes are on the progress of potential vaccines while the grim infection rate jumps and winter weather forces people indoors, in the close quarters that fuels viral spread.

New test results show potential vaccines are effective in preventing disease, are safe and also protect older people most at risk of dying. U.S. officials have said they hope to have about 20 million vaccine doses each from Pfizer and Moderna available for distribution in late December. They expect to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

Until then, social distancing and responsible behavior are our best defenses. Thank you all for your continued resoluteness in the face of this pandemic. I look forward to some good news about this virus and an upcoming vaccine.

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