Worried they’ll be overrun by the coronavirus outbreak, hospitals call on governor to make the most restrictive move yet

Gov. Kate Brown details steps Oregon is taking to limit the spread of COVID-19 at a press conference in Portland on March 12, 2020 (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)

The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems has called on Gov. Kate Brown to issue a shelter-in-place order requiring most businesses to close and require Oregonians to hunker down in their homes during the coronavirus outbreak. 

“Yesterday, our board recommended that the Governor take the strongest possible action when it comes to social distancing measures now,”  said Becky Hultberg, CEO of the association, which represents 62 acute-care hospitals in Oregon. “We support action on the state or local level to further limit retail commerce, unnecessary travel, and adopt ‘shelter in place‘ strategies.”

On Wednesday, The Portland Tribune reported that Dr. Renee Edwards, chief medical office for Oregon Health & Sciences University, said the university would support a shelter-in-place order from Brown. And on Thursday, Gov. Gavin Nusom ordered such a restriction for the 40 million residents of California.

But during a Thursday press call, Brown said she’s holding off on issuing a shelter-in-place order. 

Shortly after Brown made her remarks, the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems issued a statement calling on the governor to adopt shelter-in-place order to prevent the spread of the contagion. 

The governor has taken steps to prevent further cases of the coronavirus in Oregon including shutting down schools as well as restaurants and bars. Brown and public health officials have also urged people to adopt “social distancing” measures, such as telecommuting and not coming into close contact with others. 

The actions of Brown have been aimed at preventing a surge of people seeking care at hospitals, which could overwhelm the health care system and a rise in deaths. 

This week seven counties in California’s Bay Area, which has been badly hit by the outbreak, issued shelter-in-place orders that shut nearly all businesses and directed residents to stay at home for three weeks. Some exceptions are made for getting food and medicine or checking on relatives. 

During the press call, Brown said that her office is taking steps to be prepared for such an order in case one is needed. She said that she is forming an interagency group to define “essential businesses” that will be exempt from the order. 

“I want to emphasize that this is only preparatory,” she said. “We are not considering a shelter-in-place order at this time. But we do want to be prepared.” 

Previously, Brown has stated that she wasn’t pursuing orders to close schools and shut bars and restaurants only to reverse course shortly after. 

On Thursday, Brown didn’t give precise criteria for when she would issue such an order but said she would rely on input from public health experts and epidemiologists. 

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.