PORTLAND — Gov. Kate Brown Tuesday laid out a specific roadmap for reopening Oregon’s economy and making a big step back toward normalcy: When 70 percent of the state’s residents 16 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, she’ll eliminate most statewide restrictions meant to hamper the spread of the disease.
That includes the lifting of capacity limits on restaurants, bars, stores, gyms, sporting venues, movie theaters and limitations on the number of people who can gather indoors or out for events such as road races and festivals. No counties will remain under the current “risk level” tiers based on their rates of infections.
The statewide mask mandates on indoor public spaces and physical distancing requirements could, however, remain for some time. Governor’s spokesman Charles Boyle said the state will continue to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in determining when to lift mask mandates.
But some counties could see a significant loosening of restrictions possibly weeks before the state reaches 70 percent of its older teen and adult populations at least partially vaccinated. Counties that individually achieve 65 percent of their 16- and-older populations partially vaccinated could move to a “lower risk” level of restrictions as soon as May 21. That’s the most minimal on a four-tier scale of restrictions — allowing restaurants, bars, gyms and indoor entertainment establishments could operate at half their maximum capacity.
A few counties are nearly or already there. Statewide, about 47 percent of Oregonians 16 and older are at least partially vaccinated, but the figures climb to 55 percent in Clackamas County, 61 percent in Washington County and 63 percent in Multnomah County.
Benton and Hood River counties are the only two that currently have reached the 65 percent threshold.
Meanwhile, some counties — mostly in eastern or southern Oregon — are far off the mark. In Umatilla, Malheur, Lake, Douglas and Harney counties, only 31 percent to 37 percent of their populations 16 and older are at least partially vaccinated. It appears from a governor’s office news release that even if they never achieve 65 percent partially vaccinated, when the rest of the state achieves the 70 percent mark, the governor will lift most COVID-19 restrictions within their borders, as well.
Brown’s metrics clearly are meant to serve as motivation for more than 2 million Oregonians who have yet to be vaccinated. In a news release, she said she expects the 70 percent mark to be reachable sometime in June.
“So Oregon, this is our goal,” Brown said in a written statement Tuesday. “We each play a part. If you have already been vaccinated, thank you. Now help a friend, family member or neighbor make an appointment.”
It wasn’t immediately clear why Brown is choosing to pin reopening on the percent of residents 16 and older. But as of Tuesday, they are the only age groups currently eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. This week, however, governmental officials are expected to OK vaccinations for 12 to 15 year olds. Children as young as 2 might become eligible in September, according to some estimates.
Many experts believe the United States needs to reach 70 percent to 85 percent of its entire population — that’s all age groups — fully vaccinated before it can achieve herd immunity. That’s the point where the coronavirus is expected to have great difficulty spreading because such a large proportion of the population is immune through either vaccines or natural defenses brought on by bouts with the disease. Experts strongly recommend that even people who’ve gained natural immunity, however, get vaccinated because immunity wears off or may not offer sufficient protection.
Brown’s current goal of 70 percent of Oregonians 16 and older partially vaccinated will probably translate to less than 50 percent of the overall population fully vaccinated.
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Brown is holding a news conference at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and is expected to share more details of her plan.