By Associated Press • 

Governor closes schools to end of April; Oregon coronavirus cases now at 65


PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Oregon rose sharply by 18 cases to at least 65, the Oregon Health Authority reported Tuesday as Gov. Kate Brown extended statewide school closure to April 28.


“I do not take the decision to extend school closures lightly,” Brown said. “But we must act now to flatten the curve and slow the rate of COVID-19 transmission in Oregon, otherwise we face a higher strain on our medical system and greater loss of life to this disease.”

The extension takes school closures to a total of six weeks.

The announcements came as officials in the Portland area said they had plans to house the vulnerable homeless.

Authorities in Multnomah County said they will be opening hundreds of new shelter beds in public buildings throughout Portland to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the homeless community.

Brown, meanwhile, said that only essential medical and emergency personnel can visit residents of long-term care facilities statewide, except for residents who are in the end stages of life.

“We all know that older adults and people with underlying health conditions are among the most vulnerable to this disease,” Brown told reporters in a conference call.

Of the 18 new cases, seven are in Washington county, five in Linn County, four in Clackamas County, and one each in Marion and Multnomah counties, the health authority announced. Of the Linn County cases at the Oregon Veterans’ Home in Lebanon, four were previously reported Monday evening by Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

The most vulnerable homeless residents have been given vouchers for hotel and motel rooms and those businesses will not be allowed to kick them out or turn people away, said Deborah Kafoury, chair of the Multnomah County Board of Supervisors.

Local government will also open spaces for homeless people with the coronavirus to recuperate indoors, she said.

Volunteers have made contact with 1,700 people living on the streets or in their cars in the past week throughout the county to provide information about the coronavirus and to offer services, Kafoury said.

“What if you don’t have a place where you can self-quarantine? What happens when the libraries close, the cafes aren’t open and public spaces are no longer available?” she said at a news conference announcing the initiatives.

“These are people who simply don’t have the option to close the front door and hope that the worst won’t come.”

The city and county are also jointly suspending evictions for those who can’t pay the rent due to COVID-19 for as long as the crisis lasts, said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.

Renters will have six months to repay their back rent after the city and county lift the state of emergency.

Those who will qualify for the eviction moratorium are renters who have lost jobs or had reduced hours due to business closures; who have been out of work to watch children who are out of school; or who have been sick with the coronavirus or have a family member who is ill.

The city and county are coordinating with the Oregon courts and local sheriff’s officials to make sure no one is evicted.

“Many people are in fear and we understand that,” Wheeler said. “Extraordinary times require extraordinary actions.”

Protestors who want more aggressive action to protect renters crashed the news conference and threatened to cough on Wheeler. The interruption drew a sharp rebuke from local officials.

“Three people have died in the Metro area in the last three days of this virus. No one is immune. And scaring people to make your point won’t save any lives,” Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, spokeswoman for Multnomah County, said in a statement after the event.

Brown on Monday banned on-site consumption at bars and restaurants around the state for at least four weeks in a bid to slow the spread of the new coronavirus and said gatherings will be limited to 25 people or fewer.

Restaurants can still offer takeout or delivery but the ban on in-restaurant dining is intended to give teeth to guidance on social distancing to slow transmission of COVID-19.

Brown also strongly urged other small businesses to close unless they can offer some sort of takeout option. The order exempts grocery stores, pharmacies, retail stores and gyms.

The orders will be a blow to Oregon's economy. On Tuesday morning, parking lots outside coffee shops normally bustling with customers were almost empty and restaurants were shuttered and dark.

Brown said Tuesday she is pulling together an economic advisory council to assess the impact on Oregon's economy and suggest ways to bolster it.

She also said 150 of the state's 197 school districts are providing students with free and reduced-price lunch despite school closures statewide.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.


Selsky reported from Salem.



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