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Gov. Brown: Oregon to lift most COVID-19 restrictions when 70% of residents vaccinated
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Gov. Brown: Oregon to lift most COVID-19 restrictions when 70% of residents vaccinated

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Gov Kate Brown laid out some basic math on Tuesday for Oregon's way out of pandemic restrictions: Get 70% of adult residents at least one shot of vaccine and "normalcy" can start to return as early as next month.

"Let's get this done, let's get our economy open, and enjoy the summer," Brown said during an afternoon press call.

Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said the state needed to inoculate about 430,000 more people to reach the goal by June.

The announcement marked a major policy shift in which vaccination rate will now be the key measure of a county's ability to drop COVID-19 restrictions.

Individual counties could move out of restrictions even earlier under the new policy.

Counties could apply for the removal of restrictions early next week if they can show 65% of residents 16 and older have started the vaccination process. If approved, restrictions could be curtailed starting May 21.

Counties must also submit a "vaccine equity" plan on how to get vaccine opportunities to people in underserved communities.

OHA officials said some counties with high vaccination rates and low infection counts, such as Clatsop County, could move out of the restrictions next week.

But the new emphasis on vaccination levels also meant counties such as Deschutes and Washington could move out of most restrictions despite high infection rates this week.

Deschutes County reported 542.6 cases per 100,000 people this week, the second highest of Oregon's larger counties behind only Klamath County.

Allen said that high vaccination rates were more important than high infection rates in determining progress against COVID-19. Even if infection rates are high, vaccination rates above 65% meant that cases were unlikely to result in severe illness or death.

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On the flip side, if the state reaches a 70% overall vaccination rate, even counties such as Umatilla and Malheur, where vaccination rates are at the low end of the statewide scale, would move out of the restrictions along with all other counties.

Asked if meeting the 70% vaccination goal would likely mean that the Pendleton Round-Up could be held in September, Brown was upbeat.

"Let 'er buck," Brown forecast.

While the Centers for Disease Control may suggest some mask requirements, most likely the event would go off much closer to normal than forecast earlier. The Round-Up was cancelled last year because of COVID-19 concerns.

Brown said the moves were possible because data showing the most recent spike in cases over the past month has begun to fade.

"It looks like we’ve crossed the tipping point of the fourth surge,” Brown said. "Our hospitalization rates have stabilized. Our infection rates are on a downward trajectory. And in the race between vaccines and variants, our efforts to vaccinate Oregonians are taking the lead."

Brown said she was confident the statewide vaccination goal to reopen the entire state by mid-June was in reach if residents stepped-up to get vaccinated and help others get their shots, too.

Oregon is increasing walk-in and local clinic efforts in an attempt to get what national infectious disease officials call "impulse vaccinations" by people who did not want to deal with the burden of prior online registration.

After achieving 70% statewide vaccination of those aged 16 and older, Oregon may continue requiring some use of masks and physical distancing, Brown said, as the CDC and Oregon Health Authority monitor conditions.

All other health and safety requirements for counties under the state's risk level framework would be lifted, and counties would no longer be assigned risk levels.

Oregon public schools would still follow the state's "Ready Schools, Safe Learners" protocols, which will be updated before the upcoming return to school in the fall with an eye on removing those restrictions where possible with CDC guidance.

Brown's comments came as the University of Oregon and Western Oregon University announced this week that students would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend classes in person this fall. Oregon State University and Portland State University had announced the same policy earlier.

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