SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court on Friday upheld Gov. Kate Brown’s shutdown orders aimed at stemming the coronavirus pandemic and she prohibited county officials from loosening restrictions for at least a week amid a spike in virus cases.
The Supreme Court overturned a ruling by a judge in a conservative, rural part of the state who had determined that Brown’s restriction of activities during the coronavirus pandemic was “null and void” because it was subjected to a time limit.
But the high court said Brown’s powers under the state of emergency she declared March 8 continue until it is ended by her or the Legislature.
The Oregon Health Authority reported 178 new confirmed coronavirus cases Thursday, marking the highest daily count in the state since the start of the pandemic. On Friday, another 142 new cases were reported.
Brown late Thursday put a week-long hold on authorizing counties to lift restrictions. The new order immediately affects Multnomah County, the state’s most populous that includes Portland.
It had applied for phase one reopening that would allow restaurants and bars to reopen while maintaining social distancing, and services like hair salons, with face masks required. Three other counties had applied for phase two, which would allow venues like movie theaters and bowling alleys to open and larger groups to gather.
“As I’ve said before, reopening comes with real risk,” Brown told reporters.
She referred to her order as a “pause” that will give health officials time to assess what factors are driving the spread of the virus “and determine if we need to adjust our approach to reopening.”
In the court case focusing on the restrictions, Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff ruled in May on behalf of 10 churches that Brown erred by not seeking the Legislature’s approval to extend the stay-at-home orders beyond a 28-day limit.
Brown did refer to a statute in her emergency orders that imposes such a limit, but the Supreme Court said the state of emergency, which has no set time limit, prevails.
Furthermore, while the Supreme Court acknowledged that closing churches and businesses caused harm, Supreme Court Justice Christopher Garrett wrote that keeping people safe was more important.
“The circuit court did not give sufficient attention to the governor’s role, in emergency situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic, in determining what is in the public interest, and it did not give the necessary weight to the harm to that public interest … that would result if her orders were enjoined,” Garrett said.
The Supreme Court had earlier temporarily halted Shirtcliff’s order upon a request by the Democratic governor.
Health officials have attributed the increase in the number of coronavirus cases to wider testing and contact tracing and to the reopening of the state, but acknowledged they need to investigate further.
None of the positive test results has come from people attending numerous demonstrations against police brutality, State Health Officer Dean Sidelinger said at Friday’s news conference.
Friday’s cases bring the new total number of people in Oregon who have tested positive for coronavirus to 5,377. In addition, two more people have died from the disease, raising the state’s death toll to 173, the Oregon Health Authority reported.
For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
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