SALEM, Oregon - Governor Kate Brown announced a pact with other West Coast governors to coordinate their response to the coronavirus pandemic. That came after news that Oregon appears to be succeeding at keeping new deaths and infections down, but at great cost to the economy. On Friday, the governor spoke with "Think Out Loud" host Dave Miller about the prerequisites for reopening the state, the possibility of different approaches in rural and urban areas, and the challenges facing Oregon's unemployment system.
Portland, OR—Governor Kate Brown today introduced her framework for Reopening Oregon: a plan to restart public life and business while maintaining healthy Oregon communities. The framework sets specific prerequisites based on science, which Oregon communities must meet to begin reopening, and also outlines the actions Oregon must take to move forward.
Q&A with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Dave Miller: On Monday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and her counterparts in Washington and California announced that they would coordinate their efforts at reopening their respective states on the West Coast. On Tuesday, she outlined Oregon's prerequisites: We have to have fewer cases of COVID-19; adequate PPE — meaning masks and gloves and gowns; and a much more robust public health system that includes testing capacity, contact tracing and an effective quarantine or isolation program for new cases.
Meanwhile, even as the curve is flattening here, the economic toll is hard to fathom and seemingly getting worse by the day. Almost one in seven Oregonians have filed initial unemployment claims since just the beginning of March. That's probably an undercount, and the hit to the state's budget could be $3 billion.
Gov. Brown, I know that you have a lot on your plate right now. Thanks very much for joining us once again.
Gov. Kate Brown: Thank you so much, Dave, for having me today.
Miller: I want to start with the idea of reopening the state, over time, and under those prerequisites that I mentioned. I'm still struggling to see how this is going to work without either an effective treatment for COVID-19 or a vaccine, both of which seem to be more than a year away. Even if we have more testing and more PPE and contact tracing, if the virus is still present somewhere in this country or around the world, and we start to go back to some version of regular life, how are we going to prevent localized outbreaks?
Brown: That's a really good question. And these are the types of questions that governors across the entire United States are wrestling with. There is no playbook here. Most of us have never lived through anything like this.
I can make a few exceptions. I know we have a 104-year-old Oregonian in the Lebanon veterans home who was alive during the Spanish Flu. But most of us have not been through this. We are truly all in this together, and we're going to have to work together as we reopen up.
My framework for reopening Oregon is about the "when." It's science-based and data-based. But in terms of how we do it, that's where Oregonians come in. There should be a collective and collaborative effort, and that's what I'm intending to do over the next few weeks.
Miller: I'm focused on the "when"as well. Everybody is in their own ways. I'm just honestly struggling to understand — not just for older people, but for everybody who may interact with older people or vulnerable people, and anybody can actually get sick, even if some people are more likely to get sick. I'm struggling to understand how we can do any of this safely without a vaccine or effective treatment, even with all the prerequisites that you mentioned. I don't understand the mechanism.
Brown: I think that's a really good question. I think we will continue to do this in a way that is gradual and incremental. It is fair to say that we will not have a vaccine or any medicine, for several months, maybe a year or so.
We're going to have to rely on public health experts, epidemiologists, physicians and nurses to help us through this transition. And we're going to have to do it gradually. And we're going to have to do it carefully.
So I laid out my framework. The White House also laid out their approach this week. As you can see, they're very much aligned. The work we are doing with California, Oregon and Washington, our frameworks are in alignment. That doesn't mean we're hitching our wagon to them, but we're definitely building trails together.
And here's what we do know: We have the ability to use modeling. For example, we know that the social-distancing measures that I put in early have made a difference. It has slowed the transmission of the disease and it has flattened the curve. We now know that this is effective. So if we start to reduce our social distancing measures, we have to do them incrementally, step-by-step, and then test each one to see whether the disease spreads again.