SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Hospitals, dentists’ offices and other healthcare providers can resume attending to patients for non-urgent procedures on May 1, and Oregon is expecting “extremely large shipments” of protective masks and gowns, Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday.
However, health officials warned that Oregon, along with many other states, still lacks adequate testing capability to isolate and quash pockets of outbreaks of the coronavirus. Brown told reporters at a virtual news conference that around 8,000 tests are now being conducted weekly and that number will need to more than double.
“Testing is critical, and it’s pretty clear we don’t have enough, we need more,” Dr. Bruce Goldberg of the governor’s Medical Advisory Panel said. “We need to have robust contact tracing. And these are vital, vital pieces to allow us to continue to keep people safe and to start to approach some degree of normalcy.”
Meanwhile, the Legislature’s Emergency Board allocated more than $30 million to provide relief to Oregonians impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The money will fund rental assistance, a worker relief fund, small business assistance and domestic violence housing support.
The $10 million for the worker relief fund can be used to make payments to workers who don’t qualify for unemployment benefits because they are in the country illegally. Applicants must live in Oregon and show they lost their job in Oregon due to the pandemic.
All Democrats on the 20-member board voted to provide the $10 million. All Republicans voted no except Sen. Bill Hansell, of Athena, and Rep. Greg Smith, of Heppner, who advocated for “compassion.”
Brown’s March 19 executive order cancelling non-urgent, elective procedures — or postponing them to June 15 and beyond — was aimed at ensuring a supply of masks and other PPE for those on the front-lines in diagnosing and treating COVID-19 patients.
But starting May 1, those facilities can resume such treatments so long as they minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission, maintain adequate hospital capacity in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases and demonstrate that they have enough PPE for healthcare workers.
“We will be watching to make sure that staff on the front lines have access to the appropriate level of personal protective equipment, masks, gloves and gowns,” Brown said.
It was a step in reopening Oregon. Many Republicans representing rural areas have pushed for a reopening. Senate GOP leader Herman Baertschiger, of Grants Pass, said Monday “we can’t stay in our homes forever.”
Christine Drazan, leader of the minority Republicans in the Oregon House, said Thursday: “While this is just a small step toward getting Oregon back to work, it is an important one.”
Hospitals and other facilities have been hurt financially and healthcare workers are also among the highest workforce segment seeking unemployment benefits.
Becky Hultberg, president of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, said it is determining how hospitals can best meet the conditions outlined.
Oregon will soon be receiving a Battelle machine to clean masks, Brown said. Each machine from Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, can decontaminate up to 80,000 masks per day, the company says.
COVID-19 claimed five more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 83, the Oregon Health Authority reported Thursday. The OHA also reported 68 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total of confirmed cases 2,127. Those who died all had underlying medical conditions.
The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can be spread by those who appear healthy and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
This version corrects that two Republicans voted yes on worker relief fund
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