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Top health care professionals to state leaders: time to shut down, start over and do it right

With COVID-19 spiking in some areas of the state, experts ask the governor to prioritize public health, OSPIRG calls for shutdown in 11 hard hit counties
For Immediate Release

SALEM -- Amid uncontrolled spread of the novel coronavirus in rural Oregon and the metro area, OSPIRG and top health experts delivered a letter Friday to Governor Brown and state leaders, calling on her to shut down hard hit counties, and start over with new policies to thwart COVID-19 and do it right. The letter calls for implementing stay at home restrictions to slow the virus, while increasing testing capacity and production of personal protective equipment. 

The over 175 signers of the letter include: Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, PhD-University of Pennsylvania, William Hanage, PhD-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Seth Trueger, MD, MPH-Northwestern University, Megan Ranney, MD, MPH-Brown University & GetUsPPE , and Saskia Popescu, PhD, MPH, MA, CIC-University of Arizona. 

“Our decision makers need to hit the reset button,” said Numi Griffith, OSPIRG’s Health Care Advocate. “Continuing on the path we’re on now will result in widespread suffering and death. And for what? Health experts laid out criteria for how to reopen safely. It’s time to listen to them.” 

OSPIRG’s national partner, U.S. PIRG, delivered the letter to leadership in Congress and the Trump Administration as well. 

More than 117,000 Americans had died of COVID-19 by mid-June. If the U.S. response had been as effective as Germany’s, estimates show that America would have had only 36,000 COVID-19 deaths in that period. If the U.S.’s response had been as effective as South Korea, Australia or Singapore’s, fewer than 2,000 Americans would have died. 

Oregon reopened non-essential businesses and loosened shelter-in-place orders too quickly and did so without meeting key criteria that health experts laid out to reopen safely. Those criteria include:

  • Enough daily testing capacity to test everyone with flu-like symptoms plus anyone they have been in close contact with over the last 2 weeks (at least 10 additional tests per symptomatic person). Currently, the United States has only 35 percent of the testing capacity it needs to meet that threshold. Five Oregon counties have a positive test rate over 10%, indicating insufficient testing to trace cases.

  • A workforce of contact tracers large enough to trace all current cases. That’s 210,000 more contact tracers than the totals in April. As cases surge, 31 of 36 counties are failing to meet the state goal of tracing 70% of new infections to a known source, while according to OHA data some have never met this goal, including Multnomah, Washington, and Yamhill.

We expect our leaders to lead in these deeply troubling times, the letter explained.

“Tell the American people the truth about the virus, even when it’s hard,” the letter demands of  our elected officials. “Take bold action to save lives -- even when it means shutting down again.”

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