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Brown orders measures to combat coronavirus outbreak

Gov. Kate Brown has signed an executive order banning social gatherings. Public health officials said Oregon could see 75,000 cases by mid-May unless action is taken.

JAKE THOMAS/OREGON CAPITAL BUREAU - 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.Oregon could see up to 75,000 new cases of COVID-19 by mid May unless the state takes measures aimed at stopping the spread of the disease that's been declared a global pandemic.

The remark was made by State Health Officer Dean Sidelinger on Wednesday as Gov. Kate Brown announced new restrictions she was imposing to mitigate what she called an unprecedented public health crisis.

"We have not seen anything like this in our lifetimes," said Brown, speaking to reporters on Thursday in Portland. "And all we need to do is look around at what is happening around the entire world."

On Thursday, Brown issued an executive order that bans social, spiritual and recreational gatherings of 250 people until April 8.

Brown said that the 250 number is based on guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The ban does not apply to places like supermarkets and schools. She also issued guidelines for schools and workplaces that seek to minimize contact.

She also said schools should stop holding assemblies and other gatherings but said the state would expect school closures to be a "last resort."

Over the weekend, Brown declared a state of emergency in Oregon and state officials on Monday banned most visits to nursing homes, residential care facilities and other licensed facilities. About 30,000 Oregonians live in 670 such facilities across the state.

And on Tuesday, Oregon State University, Portland State University and the University of Oregon announced they would take classes online for the next term for about 80,000 students.

Brown said it was clear such measures were necessary.

"These steps can help save lives. This is what is at stake," the governor said.

Saying that the state should be prepared for thousands of cases, she said her actions had two goals: stop the spread of the disease and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. She also said it was aimed at protecting people most vulnerable to COVID-19, which include older adults and those with underlying health conditions.

Brown said that the virus will affect the lives of Oregonians and the state's economy and noted the hardship some will face.

The number of confirmed cases in Oregon rose to 21 after two residents in a veterans' nursing home in Lebanon contracted the virus. State health officials have sent a "strike team" into the nursing home and will test all of its residents and staff.

Testing for COVID-19 has focused on people most at risk and the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory can process 80 kits a day. The state is seeking to expand its testing capacity by allowing commercial labs to process samples.

Brown said that while she would appreciate the capacity for more testing there is currently an adequate amount.