On June 30, 2021 — nearly a year and a half after the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Oregon — nearly 70% of Oregon’s residents ages 18 and older have successfully been vaccinated against COVID-19, and most of pandemic-related restrictions are now coming to an end.
To commemorate the milestone, Governor Kate Brown’s office hosted the Reopening Oregon Celebration, featuring guest speakers from around the state who shared their thoughts on what the pandemic’s end means to them. Here’s what happened.
A reflection on lives lost
OHA Director Patrick Allen kicked off the reopening event with a brief story about two murals that adorn the walls of OHA’s Public Health Division office. The murals tell a Northwest Tribal story about a great plague and the sacrifice a woman made to end it.
“That mural… served as an invitation for us to be prepared and to ask: what sacrifices would we make to protect each other,” said Director Allen. “Were we prepared?”
In many ways, the answer was “yes.”
Director Allen thanked Oregon’s hospitals, local public health departments, community partners, business owners, front-line workers, students, parents, teachers, care-givers, health care staff and Oregon residents for working together to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the state and support one another through the pandemic’s worst moments.
While grateful for the state’s collective contributions, Director Allen also grieved for the many lives lost and the communities most negatively affected by the pandemic.
“Too many who got sick and died were our most vulnerable,” said Director Allen. “The elderly, people with disabilities and people in communities of color who’ve been subject to a history of racism and oppression.”
Director Allen expressed hope that future generations wouldn’t forget the lessons Oregon learned through this pandemic and concluded his remarks with a moment of silence for the 2,770 Oregon residents who were lost to COVID-19.
Praise for health care community, call for expanded vaccinations
OHSU infectious disease specialist Dr. Judy Guzman-Cottrill took time to thank the health care community for their herculean efforts throughout the COVID-19 response.
“Oregon’s health care professionals have gone an extra 100 miles during this pandemic,” said Dr. Guzman-Cottrill. “’Inspired’ does not even begin to describe how I feel when I think about my coworkers.”
Dr. Guzman-Cottrill also emphasized, however, that such a robust response could not last and stressed the need to expand equitable access to vaccinations throughout the state.
“We must celebrate how far we have come, but we must also confront the health disparities that this pandemic has uncovered, especially among our Black, Native and Latino Oregonians,” said Dr. Guzman-Cottrill.
Dr. Guzman-Cottrill celebrated the existing efforts of health care workers and volunteers throughout the state, who have already created innovative vaccination sites and called for this work to continue.
The resiliency of small businesses
Ricky Gomez, owner of Portland restaurant Palomar, spoke to the importance of Oregon’s small business community and the sacrifices businesses made to stick around this past year.
“We have made countless changes to our businesses in the fight for survival,” said Gomez. “But we in the small business community are a resilient bunch and will always rise to the occasion.”
Gomez spoke to the successes of the Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon, which worked to pass legislation for such things as to-go cocktails, caps on delivery services and financial assistance for those in the hospitality industry. He also expressed gratitude for the people who make the small business community so special, before proudly announcing “we’re open for business.”
Enduring climate change, pandemics, political turmoil
Rukaiyah Adams, Chief Investment Officer for Meyer Memorial Trust, reflected on the many obstacles people have faced during the pandemic.
“No matter your point of view, during this tumultuous time, our planet, our form of government, our bodies have been under threat,” said Adams.
Adams spoke to the disproportionate amount of deaths that members of the Asian American, Pacific Islander, Latino/Latina/Latinx and Black community experienced early in the pandemic, but commended the improvement of public servants as time progressed.
“They tried harder by building new relationships with underserved communities, they worked to remedy gaps in data, care and resources,” said Adams. “We actually came together.”
According to Adams, coming together prompted increased appreciation for schools and teachers, online engagement, the heroes of our economy, public health and our neighbors.
“Now today, we begin the hard work of remembering those that we lost, we begin the spiritual work of healing and the ennobling work of reopening in ways that are more equitable, inclusive and resilient,” said Adams.
Adams ended her remarks with a reminder to all Oregon residents of the strength we have when we work together and the acknowledgement that recovery from the pandemic has only just begun.
489 days later
Governor Brown, last to take the stage, reflected on the 489 days that had transpired since Oregon’s first COVID-19 case was discovered.
“Day and night for the past 489 days, our nurses, doctors and health care workers have treated COVID-19 patients,” said Governor Brown. “We would have lost many more Oregonians if not for the heroic acts that have taken place every day in critical care units and emergency departments across the state.”
Governor Brown commended the hard work of Oregon residents everywhere to take pandemic restrictions seriously and keep Oregon’s infection rates some of the lowest in the country. Governor Brown specifically gave thanks to doctors, nurses, health care workers, frontline workers, Tribal health partners, local public health authorities, National Guard members, Medical Advisory Panel members, housing advocates, farmworkers, 211 employees, educators, school staff, media members, all government employees and the staff at OHA for being “heroes of this pandemic.”
“Today, we celebrate Oregon’s strength, resilience and collaboration,” said Governor Brown. “We celebrate brighter days ahead. And, today, we celebrate that Oregon is 100% open for business.”
Governor Brown reiterated that Oregon would continue closing equity gaps and ensure vaccination access for every Oregon resident. Despite the difficult 489 days before, Governor Brown insisted that Oregon’s greatest days were on the horizon.
“Welcome back, Oregon!”
What does reopening actually mean
On June 25, Governor Brown signed Executive Order 21-15, which indicates that the following Executive Orders will no longer be in effect after June 30:
- Executive Order 20-66 (County Risk Level framework)
- Executive Order 20-22 (Non-urgent Healthcare Procedures)
- Executive Order 21-06 (K-12 Schools)
- Executive Order 20-28 (Higher Education)
- Executive Order 20-19 (Childcare Facilities)
While the new Executive Order cancels most pandemic-related restrictions, it also reminds Oregonians that masks are still required in health care settings, in airports and on airplanes, and in public transportation.
The new Executive order also creates terms for ongoing recovery efforts that will be in effect through Dec. 31, 2021. Namely, the new Executive Order extends Executive Order 20-03 so that Oregon can remain eligible for “federal funding, support, and other assistance with the Covid-19 response, including but not limited to funding and support from FEMA for Covid-19 response activities and continued state eligibility for enhanced SNAP benefits.”
You can read the full Executive Order here.
While reopening gives us many reasons to be joyful, we also acknowledged the immense loss and grief that many continue to experience as a result of the pandemic.
For those who are continuing to grieve, it’s okay. Mental and emotional health resources are available for you online through Safe + Strong, The Dougy Center and Refuge in Grief. Additionally, OHA filmed a Facebook Live on grief in early March, which you can view here.
You can watch a recording of today’s event below.