Oregon bans large gatherings, school assemblies to end as two in Lebanon veterans’ home found infected with COVID-19

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Life in Oregon undergoes a dramatic change Thursday, as Gov. Kate Brown bans large gatherings, major universities shift to remote classes for 80,000 students, local schools are urged to cancel events, and medical professionals can ramp up testing for the novel coronavirus.

The developments are unfolding as Oregon health officials on Wednesday announced that six more people have tested positive for COVID-19, including two residents at a veterans’ nursing home in Lebanon. Statewide, Oregon has recorded 21 presumptive cases in 11 counties with health officials warning more are likely.

And in Washington, the Trump administration and Congress are considering pumping money into the American economy. President Donald Trump has suggested stopping payroll taxes and deferring income tax payments. In a speech to the country Wednesday night, Trump also announced a ban on travel to the U.S. from Europe with the general exception of U.S. citizens.

The governor was scheduled to hold a news conference in Portland Thursday to provide details on new state restrictions and steps state and local governments are taking to address the outbreak, now considered a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.

“It’s time for us all to do what we can to slow its spread and take care of one another,” Brown said in a statement Wednesday evening.

She is banning all gatherings of 250 people or more for the next four weeks.

“A gathering is defined as any event in a space in which appropriate social distancing of a minimum of three feet cannot be maintained,” her statement said.

Brown also announced new guidance for Oregon’s local schools that will touch every student, teacher and parent.

“To keep schools open, all non-essential school-associated gatherings and group activities should be canceled — such as group parent meetings, field trips, and competitions,” Brown said.

The Salem-Keizer School District, the state’s second-largest, announced that it was suspending “all school-based assemblies and events, off-campus field trips, and professional development meetings and events.”

The district also said no one would be allowed into sporting events “with the exception of essential personnel and credentialed media.”

Workplaces across the state should modify their practices as well, Brown said.

Employers should use “distancing measures including an increased physical space between employees in offices and worksites, limited in-person meetings, limited travel, and staggered work schedules where possible.”

The new restrictions follow the state’s decision to greatly restrict visits to Oregon’s 670 nursing homes, residential care facilities and other licensed care centers. More than 30,000 Oregonians live in such settings. The state has said only essential visitors should be allowed in – after screening – and that includes friends and relatives for end-of-life visits or visits otherwise considered vital to a resident’s care.

Brown also reached out a second time to federal officials, seeking more medical equipment and supplies and money to deal with everything from deep cleaning of schools to providing child care for first responders, steps she said were “critically necessary.”

DOCUMENT: Gov Kate Brown’s letter

“The situation on the ground continues to change, and we are facing shortages and policy barriers that need to be addressed,” Brown said in a seven-page letter to Vice President Mike Pence and Congressional leaders. “We are already starting to see the ways that Americans lives will undoubtedly be disrupted as this disease spreads.”

In other key developments in Oregon, two men over the age of 80 in a Lebanon nursing home for veterans were presumed infected with COVID-19 following testing. State officials said testing of all residents and care providers at the nursing home, identified by The Oregonian/OregonLive as the Edward C. Allworth Veterans’ Home.

The new cases in Lebanon pushed to 21 the number of people presumed infected following testing. The largest concentration is in Washington County, with eight patients. Marion, Jackson and Umatilla counties each have two cases. State authorities have provided little information about any of the cases, including in what communities they live or their movements around their communities before being diagnosed.

The number of new cases is expected to grow as testing increases. The Oregon Health Authority said medical providers can now use commercial laboratories for testing, easing the requirement that all testing samples had to be processed at one state laboratory. The agency also said it was nearing agreement with five Oregon hospitals, allowing them to conduct COVID-19 testing. The hospitals weren’t identified.

And in quick succession Wednesday evening, Oregon State University, the University of Oregon and Portland State University all said they were changing practices to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The biggest impact for students will be shifting to remote classes, conducting virtually starting with the spring term. The universities cancelled non-essential travel for students and employees.

“All OSU students, faculty and staff are encouraged to avoid personal travel over spring break. Students should instead consider remaining at our campuses in Corvallis and Bend,” OSU said in its statement. The university has about 32,000 students.