Oregon fights COVID-19 uptick, reminding the U.S. the pandemic isn't over yet

Oregon battles COVID-19 uptick
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/CBS Evening News)

COVID-19 cases and deaths are declining in the U.S. and Europe, and much of the U.S. and Europe are starting to relax safety restrictions and shift back toward pre-pandemic life. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut announced Monday they plan to fully reopen May 19. Los Angeles County reported a second day of zero COVID-19 deaths on Monday.

But Michigan is battling its way out of its recent surge, fueled by the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant first found in Britain — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has tied lower restrictions to higher vaccination rates. And the coronavirus is raging out of control in parts of South America and India. Oregon, like India, managed to avoid big outbreaks in the first waves of the pandemic, and Gov. Kate Brown (D) moved last week to make sure Oregon's new outbreak doesn't blow up.

Brown put new restrictions on 15 counties deemed at "extreme risk" for COVID-19 spread, and more counties are expected to be added this week. The governor said the measures — no indoor service at bars and restaurants, expanded outdoor dining capacity, and limits at gyms, movie theaters, and other businesses — will last no more than three weeks, and she plans for Oregon to be fully reopened by July. Brown told CBS Evening News on Monday that Oregon is in a race between vaccinations and the B.1.1.7 variant, and right now the variant is winning.

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The B.1.1.7 variant, now the dominant strain in Oregon, spreads faster and appears to strike younger, healthier people, according to anecdotal evidence from Michigan, Britain, and other areas where it is prevalent. All vaccines approved for use in the U.S. are effective against the U.K. variant.

Nearly half of Oregonians are at least partially vaccinated, and the Oregon Health Authority reported one new COVID-19 death and 540 new cases Monday, a slight drop even while hospitalizations are still rising. "Oregon has among the lowest overall case counts and deaths of all states," Becky Hultberg, CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, said last week. "We can't let our guard down now."

Not all U.S. states agree with Oregon's strategy. In Florida, which is reporting an average of nearly 5,000 new COVID-19 cases a day and has a test positivity rate of 7.9 percent — versus 6 percent in Oregon — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Monday that will allow him to override local COVID-19 restrictions across the state.

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