I wrote last week that Oregon residents and businesses should be cautious throughout reopening because (a) you don’t want to get people sick, and (b) some folks will blow any bad news out of proportion in an attempt to shut us back down. A week later, I have a multiple choice question for you:
“[H]ealth officials are braced for potentially deadly barbecues.”
Comes from (a) an on-screen TV reporter setting the stage in the new blockbuster horror movie for the Coronavirus era, “Phase I: The Reopening” or (b) an Oregon Public Broadcasting story about an increase in the number of cases in Deschutes County since its economy and society were allowed to partially reopen a week ag0?
That doozy of a sentence comes from OPB (though I wonder who would play Dr. Anthony Fauci in the movie). One imagines the health officials in a bunker somewhere, in the crash position, sheltering from the apocalyptic aftermath of unenlightened county residents enjoying some of their renewed and partial freedom gained by the county’s reckless application to enter Phase I of Governor Brown’s well-intentioned-but-ultimately-too-leniently-applied reopening framework. The officials are braced.
Except that’s not what is really happening. Consider:
1. The cited number of new cases, 26 since partial reopening, is an uptick worthy of concern. However, to get to that number, one must include the three new cases reported on May 15, the very same day reopening began. I got my medical degree from a law school, but I don’t think those three can be attributed to a reopening that happened the same day. But 26 is marginally scarier than 23, so there you have it.
2. OPB’s story came out yesterday. The day before, Wednesday, there were nine new cases reported in the county, the most of any single day since the pandemic began. This was the “spike.” Yesterday? Just one new case. Now, I’m not saying OPB willfully omitted this fact: its story came out about 3 pm, while it appears the new case data wasn’t released until an hour or two later. But that new data is good news, and perhaps an indication of our getting past the spike. It might also merit an update to yesterday’s (alarming) story, but I’m not holding my breath.
3. Those braced health officials? Here are their actual quotes from the story:
“’Finding these cases means the public health system is working,’ [one official] said, adding that officials expect they successfully contained the outbreak through the voluntary isolation of exposed households.”
And here’s what a county health official said about the barbecues:
“All it takes is one COVID-19 positive person to attend a barbecue, or a block party, or a picnic, and then we’ll have another situation where we are investigating multiple cases.”
In other words, health officials warn that a BBQ attended by an infected person could lead to deployment of contact tracing, which has worked thus far to contain the spread of the disease in Deschutes County. That’s a lot different than bracing for deadly barbecues.
4. There have, thankfully, been zero deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Deschutes County so far.
5. There are, as of Thursday evening, zero Covid-19 patients hospitalized in Deschutes County.
Why spend all this time (mine and, for those still with me, yours) with one story among the thousands written about COVID-19 and reopening? Because all of this is uncertain enough and scary enough without hyperbole that is neither supported by the evidence nor the publicly stated views of local health officials. To be sure there’s hyperbole and inaccuracy aplenty among those who want to minimize the danger of COVID-19. Those of us – what I believe to be the vast majority of us – trying to find a reasonable way through what is, locally, a potential health disaster and a very real economic disaster want and need actual facts, good news and bad news, not exaggerated horror stories.
Late breaking news: A lefty advocacy group called OSPIRG, the background of which I will not bore you with, has this morning come out with a piece urging the Governor to pull Deschutes County’s Phase I status on the basis of the “spike.” OSPIRG also believes, following some prior coverage by OPB, that Deschutes County’s tracing capacity is inadequate. Well, it has thus far proven adequate, but this is a messaging problem the county is going to have to deal with and quickly, while staying on top of tracing and being very public about the reasons for increases.
Devastating: In March, Oregon’s unemployment rate was at a near-record-low 3.5%. Just one month later, it was 14.2%. A staggering 266,600 Oregonians lost their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic. Oregon’s average household size is 2.6 people. The size of working age households is probably significantly higher (with retirees dragging down the average), but let’s just use that number. That would mean around 700,000 of Oregon’s 4.2 million people – one in six – have been newly impacted by job loss in the household in the last two months.
To put the Covid-related job loss in perspective, it serves to compare to the well-known and economy-changing collapse in the late 20th/early 21st century of Oregon’s logging employment base. In 1990, there were 15,774 Oregonians employed in private-sector forestry and logging; there were 5,711 doing that same work in 2018, a loss of around 10,000 jobs over nearly 30 years. Now, these figures don’t include millworker and other forest products jobs and I know from personal experience the economic toll the decline of the timber industry had on the Pacific Northwest. But the rapidity and scale of job losses due to Covid dwarf those job losses. Thus the critical importance of doing reopening right.
A little law: Late Morning Monday, a Baker County Circuit Court Judge declared Governor Kate Brown’s executive orders closing businesses and limiting gatherings of Oregonians, including for religious purposes, “null and void.” The judge relied on an Oregon statute that limits the duration of a “public health emergency” to 14 days, unless extended by the Governor for another 14 days. The Governor’s orders were not time-limited. As of the judge’s ruling, issued from the bench (he just said what his ruling was rather than writing it down), Oregonians were no longer subject to the Governor’s emergency orders and theoretically Portland could have (but thankfully, for many reasons, did not) hastily convened the naked bike ride, which was to be held on June 27, but was cancelled due to coronavirus.
Alas, the window of, uh, opportunity was missed because by 8 pm Monday night the Oregon Supreme Court had stayed the Circuit Court ruling, thereby slamming back into place the full panoply of executive orders. The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today from the state and from the plaintiffs in the Baker County case and will presumably rule on an expedited basis whether the orders stay or go.
Torcom Talk: I was on Bud Torcom’s podcast “Torcom Talk” to talk about COVID-19 and reopening. It was a good talk and people looking for a thought-provoking Central Oregon-focused podcast should definitely subscribe (the link above is the YouTube video, but it’s also available on iTunes, etc. in podcast form). Take a listen, and P.S. the technical glitches were my fault.
New Logo and Format: I hope you like the new logo at the top and slightly different format. I swapped out the EagerLaw PC logo for a BBR-specific one because this little email has taken on a life of its own.
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Jeff started EagerLaw PC to help Oregon entrepreneurs succeed in business. Jeff worked in Washington, D.C. for Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, served as Mayor of the City of Bend, and has been practicing law in Oregon for over a decade. Jeff believes strongly in entrepreneurship and enjoys making the legal side of business transparent and easy for his clients.