Brown sets 70% vaccination target to lift most Covid restrictions

Gov. Kate Brown stands in the library at Lincoln Elementary School during a visit on the first day back to in-person learning in Woodburn, Ore. on Thursday, April 1, 2020. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

This article was updated at 4:15 p.m. following a state press conference.

About 430,000 vaccines stand between Oregon and a lifting of nearly all Covid pandemic restrictions.

Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday said she would bring to an end pandemic-related limits on indoor dining, shopping, recreation and events that have been in place for over a year once 70% of Oregonians 16 and older have received at least one dose of Covid vaccine.

That’s a target state health officials said they expect to hit in June.

Brown said with more Oregonians vaccinated against Covid, particularly those most vulnerable to serious illness, the state can lift restrictions without overwhelming hospitals.

“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 during a news conference Tuesday.

Some counties will be able to lift many pandemic restrictions earlier based on their own vaccination rates, Brown said. Polk County may be among them, health officials said, while Marion County is less likely to hit the mark.

Hitting the statewide target will mean no more assignment of county risk levels and no more capacity restrictions for businesses, venues or social events. 

Brown said some requirements to wear masks and physically distance in certain settings could remain in place, depending on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but did not have specifics.

The state will also keep in place its guidelines for school operations, though Brown said the Department of Education and OHA would reevaluate them over the summer.

As of May 9, 56.6% of Oregonians 16 and older had received at least one Covid vaccine, up from about 50% at the start of May, according to Oregon Health Authority data

That data doesn’t include some vaccines administered by federal agencies such as the Veterans Administration, said Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority.

He said Tuesday about 430,000 more Oregonians need to get their first Covid shot to hit the 70% target. 

Even with vaccination rates around the state starting to slow, Allen said Oregon is on track. To get to 70% vaccination in June, Allen said 8,700 Oregonians need to get a first shot per day. Currently, vaccine sites around the state are averaging more than 34,000 first and second doses daily, Allen said.

He said the state’s vaccination strategy would shift in the coming weeks away from large mass vaccination sites like the one Salem Health has operated since January at the Oregon State Fairgrounds. Instead, vaccines will become more available at local pharmacies, doctor’s offices, clinics and other places more convenient for people to access.

While Brown’s county risk level assignments will remain in place until Oregon meets the statewide vaccination target, counties may now move to less restrictive measures based on vaccination rates, rather than Covid case numbers.

Oregon counties where at least 65% of residents 16 and older have received at least one dose of Covid vaccine can move to “lower risk” restrictions as early as May 21. Two counties, Benton and Hood River, have already hit that mark, and Allen said Deschutes, Lincoln, Multnomah and Washington should reach 65% vaccination before May 21.

In Marion County, 50% of residents 16 and older have received at least one vaccine shot. Polk County’s rate is slightly higher, at 56%, according to OHA data. Allen said Polk is one of five counties likely to reach 65% vaccination before the state as a whole meets the target to remove restrictions.

To move to “low risk”, those counties will also be required to submit a plan to the state detailing how they will close vaccination gaps among their residents.

Under “low risk” rules, restaurants, bars and indoor entertainment venues would be able to open at 50% indoor capacity and close at midnight. Most of the state, including Marion and Polk counties, are operating under “high risk” rules which cap indoor capacity at 25% or 50 people, whichever is smaller, and require venues to close at 11 p.m.

Faith institutions and funeral homes could operate at 75% capacity indoors, and indoor social gatherings could include up to 10 people.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.