Deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Tom Jeanne also chimed in that while hospitalizations are still stressing the system’s capacity, they are declining thanks to Oregonians heeding COVID-19 safety precautions, like wearing masks.
But by news conference’s end, both the governor and the deputy state epidemiologist seemed to be sending mixed messages, acknowledging that while new known daily cases had been tumbling for the first three weeks of September they have now generally plateaued for the past week and officials are hopeful but uncertain of what’s to come.
“Let me be really, really clear,” Brown said when questioned by a reporter about her failure to mention the event until asked about it. “I did not go to the Pendleton Round-Up, which I love …because I was concerned about community spread.”
Jeanne said he was unsure of the impact mass outdoor events like University of Oregon, Oregon State University and high school football games may be having on flattening COVID-19 case rates. Both Jeanne and the governor acknowledged that the Pendleton Round-Up in particular has fueled highly concerning spread in eastern parts of the state.
“The good news is that while we still have a long way to go, it appears things are slowly getting better,” Brown said.
“Thank you Oregonians for once again unselfishly stepping up to turn back the rising tide of infection,” Jeanne said.
When asked if she was worried about mid-September’s Round-Up sparking a new surge in parts of eastern Oregon, Brown added: “I’m gravely concerned.”
Brown, however, said she allowed the Round-Up to proceed because it’s up to individual Oregonians to follow the rules, and she’s mandated some of the strictest nationally by requiring masks in all indoor public spaces and in outdoor settings where physical distancing can’t be maintained from other people.
“We have some of the strongest safety protocol in the entire nation,” Brown said. “ … If you watch an Ohio football game in Ohio, those stadiums filled with 100,000 people, there is hardly a mask there. That is very different here in Oregon.” Mask compliance at football games in Oregon has been mixed, with many covering up but many others sporting masks under their chins.
Mask requirements at the Pendleton Round-Up were reportedly seldom followed. Some people attended the event even though they had COVID symptoms, according to The East Oregonian, which said Umatilla County had linked 49 COVID-19 infections to Round-Up. Officials believe the true number is higher because many infected people wouldn’t cooperate with contact tracers, the news organization reported. Statewide, the number of new known daily COVID-19 cases has declined 28% and hospitalizations are down 26% over roughly the past four weeks. Deaths also have dropped from an average of 19 reported in a day to 16.
But the past week tells a different story. Only hospitalizations have continued to fall. Daily cases and deaths have remained relatively flat, with cases down only 2% in the past week. As of Wednesday, new known cases were averaging about 1,630 per day. A forecast provided to the state last week predicted cases by Oct. 12 would either decrease to 1,480 or increase to about 2,050 per day.
— Aimee Green; email@example.com; @o_aimee
“Could all of those things be having some effect on our cases and potentially slowing the decline we’re seeing?” Jeanne asked. “Absolutely.” Jeanne, the deputy state epidemiologist, said he’s still optimistic about COVID-19 numbers declining in the fall. He said it’s still too soon to tell the full extent the start of K-12 school and colleges and big fall events like the Round-Up will or might have on Oregon’s longer term numbers.