Oregon Reopens
Coronavirus Remains a Risk to the Public

illustration of four faces sticking their tongues out at each other, with little viruses slipping off the tongues.

As states across the nation enter their first phases of reopening, the novel coronavirus persists as a threat to public health. Nationwide, as of May 23rd, 1,595,885 total cases of the coronavirus have been identified, with 96,002 deaths from the disease. The United States maintains the highest number of coronavirus cases worldwide. Oregon has experienced a total of 3,888 cases and 147 deaths as of May 23. Meanwhile, Washington has recorded 19,265 cases and 1,050 deaths as of May 21. 

In response to the economic impact of coronavirus, the CARES Act created the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), valued at approximately $14.25 billion. The fund provides emergency relief to students and institutions, with $6 billion mandated to go directly to students through emergency financial aid grants. During a press conference on May 22, Interim President Stephen Percy announced that Portland State University has received approximately 4,800 applications for HEERF emergency financial aid grants and has dispersed approximately $3.6 million to students. Despite funding received through HEERF, Percy stated concern about budget cuts arising from a drop in state funding and declared that the university has been engaged in preliminary planning for an 8.5% reduction in state spending.

“Nationwide, as of May 23rd, 1,595,885 total cases of the coronavirus have been identified, with 96,002 deaths from the disease.”

Concerns about state budget cuts are justified and the State of Oregon is preparing for a large budget shortfall. In a statement released on May 11, Governor Kate Brown described that “early discussions indicated this impact could be a reduction of $3 billion for the current budget period,” and “directed state agencies to prepare prioritized reduction plans equaling a 17 percent reduction for the upcoming fiscal year as a planning exercise to explore all options.”  

In a statement made on May 20, Brown called upon the federal government to aid in the state’s expected budget shortfalls, stressing that “the budget gap created by this pandemic is too large to bridge without additional Congressional action.” Brown said “as a state, we took action to shutter our economy in order to save lives in the middle of a once-in-a-century crisis. Now it’s time for Congress and the President to step up and provide once-in-a-century support for important state services, including schools, health care, and public safety.”

“Oregon has experienced a total of 3,888 cases and 147 deaths as of May 23rd.”

Despite some countries, including Iran and Japan, having experienced notable increases in coronavirus cases after reopening, the United States has begun to reopen. Doctor Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) warned during a CNN interview “to be on the alert.” In Oregon, all counties except Washington and Multnomah counties have been approved for Phase 1 of reopening. Washington and Multnomah counties, which have reported among the highest numbers of cases in Oregon, have not, as of May 23, applied to reopen.

The State of Oregon has announced its new statewide guidelines for counties remaining in lockdown and those entering Phase 1 of reopening. Non-emergency medical, dental, and veterinary care providers are allowed to operate, provided they meet safety guidelines issued by the state. Local outdoor recreation activities, including many state parks, have been reopened. Those counties remaining in lockdown will now be allowed to reopen summer school for “limited in-person, small group instruction” with some restrictions. “Local cultural, civic and faith gatherings” are now allowed for groups of up to 25 people so long as physical distancing can be performed. Limited child care will also be allowed, “with priority placements for children of health care workers, first responders, and frontline workers.” Stand-alone retail establishments will also be allowed to reopen, provided that they can accommodate state safety and physical distancing requirements. The baseline guidelines do not allow for dine-in service at restaurants, social gatherings over 10 people, or personal care services, including hair salons and gyms.

“PSU has received over 4,800 applications for HEERF emergency financial aid grants and has dispersed approximately $3.6 million to students.”

Counties that have entered Phase 1 of reopening may allow dine-in restaurant service, so long as tables are spaced at least six feet apart, employees wear face coverings, and all on-site consumption ends prior to 10 p.m. Personal care services, including salons, may reopen by appointment, with a requirement for pre-appointment health checks. Personal care services must also maintain a log of customers, maintain six feet of physical distance between clients, and provide face coverings for employees. Gyms may reopen, provided that they limit capacity to enforce physical distancing and meet sanitation guidelines. In Phase 1 counties, local gatherings may be conducted with up to 25 people, but travelling for gatherings remains prohibited.

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