Oregon Governor Kate Brown is in active conversations about the potential of travel restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus between states.
Brown's press secretary Liz Merah told our sister publication The Curry Coastal Pilot in Brookings, that the discussions follow Brown's statements in press briefings that in recent weeks, doctors, health experts, and case investigators have reported seeing cases linked to interstate travel.
"The issue of travel restrictions was raised by members of the Governor’s Medical Advisory Panel based on COVID-19 cases linked to travel in southern Oregon, which is troubling based on the spikes in case counts California is currently experiencing," Merah said. "County-level COVID-19 data from across the country likewise shows increasing case counts between linked communities across state borders."
Merah said the Brown is asking health experts at the Oregon Health Authority and the Medical Advisory Panel for more data on travel-related spread of COVID-19, as well as recommendations for health and safety measures to address such cases.
"In conversations with legislators today, our office also discussed the reality that many Oregonians in communities on the state’s borders often cross those borders for work, and that any restrictions must take economic and supply chain implications into account," Merah said. "As the Governor has stated previously, our focus is on restrictions related to tourist travel from hotspot states and communities. Conversations are ongoing about how those restrictions could work."
Columbia County Economic Team interim executive director Paul Vogel told The Chief that it’s important that Brown is talking with public health and scientific experts.
"At the very, most basic level, decisions around this must to be science-driven," Vogel said. "Regardless of intent, however, the practicality of restricting border-crossing travel has to be carefully considered. Is it even possible to marshal the resources (personnel, vehicles, etc.) to set up at every border crossing? Oregon’s eastern and southern borders have countless roads into and out of the state; is it possible to be on every road? And how would it be done, checkpoints that stop traffic based on license plate?"
Vogel said on the northern border, except for the far northeast, the Columbia River creates a natural barrier with traffic choke points at bridges and locally, in Columbia County, those choke points already cause immense traffic delays to traffic crossing at the Rainier/Longview Bridge.
"It’s not difficult to imagine the chaos that would result from adding checkpoints to that chokepoint - which would impact businesses by delaying workers and customers, let alone freight traffic," Vogel said.
Bridge crossings are a part of everyday life in the northern part of Columbia County, according to Vogel.
"That sort of system, if you will, could multiply the effect of the pandemic and economic crisis exponentially – which simply has to be considered, especially since that traffic flow has occurred every day since the pandemic began, yet Columbia County has among the lowest confirmed infection rates in the state, and zero deaths due to COVID," Vogel said.
"The citizens and business community here certainly understand the challenge and the importance of taking practical measures to contain COVID. But, as ever, let’s be sure that the problem we’re trying to solve is both solvable, and doesn’t create unnecessary additional economic dislocation or outright contempt for COVID measures as its primary outcome," Vogel said.
Follow this developing story here online and in the Friday print editions of The Chief.