As coronavirus infections skyrocket in Oregon, Governor Kate Brown said on Friday she intends to take a much harder line to enforce her new “freeze” order that limits the size of gatherings social services to a maximum of six people.
The governor has warned that the violations are citation or arrest offenses, and Brown said she would work with state and local law enforcement to encourage Oregon residents to walk away. comply with its directive.
“For the past eight months, I have asked Oregonians to follow the letter and the spirit of the law and we have not chosen to engage law enforcement,” Brown said Friday. “At the moment, unfortunately, we have no other option. “
The governor’s office cited the emergency clearance granted to it by Oregon law. Violators could face up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $ 1,250, or both.
It is the same set of sanctions that the governor’s office described for its order to “stay at home” at the start of the pandemic last March. Authorities said at the time that they intended to educate people about the laws rather than hand down penalties, and it is not clear that those penalties were ever applied.
The notion of citing or arresting people in their homes will become another critical point in ongoing cultural wars over how to limit the spread of the deadly disease. The governor’s freeze comes just before Thanksgiving, as the state and nation go through a rough patch with a presidential transition underway and infection rates skyrocketing in Oregon and across the country.
“Oregon State Police will work with local law enforcement to enforce governor’s orders, much like local police officers respond to noise complaints for loud parties, for example. , and issue quotes, ”Brown spokesman Charles Boyle said on Saturday. State police said they would not have details of their enforcement plans until Monday.
The state is producing about 1,100 new COVID-19 infections a day, triple the number from just three weeks ago. And the rate of positive coronavirus tests has increased from around 5% for several weeks in the summer to over 13%.
Hospitalizations have also increased, from around 120 at the end of October to 308 today. Medical facilities say their emergency care beds are almost full and some are postponing elective procedures to make room for a continued increase in cases. Health officials say 759 Oregonians with COVID-19 have died since March, including 48 so far this month.
The governor’s two-week freeze order allows retailers and the vast majority of businesses to continue operating, but it is shutting down gyms and food service at restaurants and bars.
The ordinance also limits gatherings to a maximum of six people from two households. In Multnomah County, where infections are particularly severe, Brown said the frost would last for at least four weeks.
Health officials attribute the state’s spike in infection rates to reckless social gatherings, including an unspecified Halloween party that reportedly drew 100 people last month. This sort of thing must stop, Brown said on Friday, but she urged Oregon residents to downsize any social gathering – including family celebrations on Thanksgiving.
The governor said she would limit her thanksgiving to just four people – Brown’s husband, daughter and fiance.
“I know this doesn’t sound like the Thanksgiving vacation we’ve all been planning for weeks, and I know it’s really, really hard,” said Brown, “but unfortunately it’s a necessity right now.
Although most of the freeze does not take effect until Wednesday, the governor said limits on social gatherings were enforced immediately.
“I will take stronger legal action where appropriate,” said Brown. “I have already asked the director of the state police to start working with local law enforcement to legally enforce informal social gathering orders.
Oregon Republicans immediately criticized the governor’s freeze on Friday, criticizing restrictions that some have called unconstitutional and others have been applied inconsistently. Some reacted with particular outrage to restrictions on social gatherings.
New Clackamas County President Tootie Smith wrote on Facebook that she plans to deliberately violate the governor’s restrictions, saying she will “be celebrating Thanksgiving with as many family and friends as I can find. Governor Brown is wrong to order otherwise. “
And Senator Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, wrote to Oregon State Police complaining that the governor’s order “appeared to have created new laws,” and said enforcement of the freeze amounted to “extrajudicial armed raids against individuals”.
There is no indication, however, that Oregon is planning such raids, and other states appear to have imposed orders similar to Brown’s without any of the melodramas Boquist envisioned.
In a famous September example, police cited six students at an Ohio university after finding they were having a big party without a mask – even though one of six had recently tested positive for the coronavirus. These students each faced fines of $ 500.
“Hospitals in Oregon are overworked at capacity,” Brown’s office said Saturday. “We urge the people of Oregon to think about the real cost of indoor social gatherings, as parties and other such gatherings are accelerating the spread of COVID-19.”
– Mike Rogoway