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Oregon Governor Outlines Her State's Preparation For Coronavirus Impact

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The first deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus - six so far - were in Washington state, and its state and county authorities were at the front lines of dealing with the disease. Washington's King County health officials held a news conference today describing their efforts.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

DOW CONSTANTINE: We have moved to a new stage in the fight to contain, mitigate and manage this outbreak. This morning, we are in final negotiations to purchase a motel which we can - in which we can place patients who are in need of isolation and a place to recover.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Just over the border to the south, Oregon has three presumptive cases. And we're joined now by Oregon's governor, Kate Brown. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KATE BROWN: Thank you so much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What is the latest information about the presence of COVID-19 in your state?

BROWN: Well, first of all, my heart goes out to all of the families impacted by this disease, both in Oregon and Washington and, frankly, all over the country. We stood up our incident command team on January 21. They are working around the clock in monitoring the situation. Building on that work, last Friday, I established our coronavirus response team, which is directing our interagency efforts. We're coordinating very closely with our federal, state, local and tribal partners, and I'm absolutely committed to ensuring that Oregonians have the latest information they need.

SHAPIRO: Now, I understand one of the three presumptive cases in Oregon came from somebody who attended a school basketball game. Are you concerned about those kinds of public gatherings going forward?

BROWN: Certainly. We are taking this very, very seriously. But we're relying on trained public health professionals and taking this on a case-by-case basis. So for example, the gymnasium - my understanding is it's being closed and super-cleaned. Because it is not attached to the rest of the school, that seems most appropriate. The other elementary school that had a, I'll say, a survivor of the coronavirus, that school is being closed for a few days and being super-cleaned as well.

SHAPIRO: So what's your message to Oregonians and others who may be afraid of going to public gatherings right now?

BROWN: Look. I would encourage everyone, Oregonians and Americans, to stay calm and to go about their daily lives. I believe that information is power. And if you are sick - if you have a cough or a cold or the flu - please stay home from work or school. And, two, observe appropriate hygiene - wash your hands with soap and water and cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough with a Kleenex or an elbow. This is the most appropriate practices that we can be doing.

SHAPIRO: We've heard a lot of officials say, if you're sick, stay home. There are workers without sick leave who don't have childcare to keep their sick kid home from school. I mean, that recommendation makes sense, but it's just not realistic for a lot of people.

BROWN: I am well aware, with the level of quarantine, that this is going to be impacting families throughout the state. We're looking at the tools that we have, including our newly passed paid family leave. We're looking at unemployment insurance. We're coordinating with the private sector and looking at the tools that we have. We want to make sure that families can pay their rent, pay their mortgage and their other bills. At the same time, we obviously need to be concerned about public safety.

SHAPIRO: There were reports of people in Oregon clearing out the shelves at supermarkets. What can you do to prevent panic?

BROWN: (Laughter) Tell everybody to stay calm, observe appropriate handwashing hygiene. This is transmitted through coughing and sneezing. It is not like the measles. So again, I want to encourage people to go about their daily lives. There is absolutely no reason to panic. We are relying on a stellar public health system here in Oregon and, I know, in other states. These are folks trained professionally, and we're relying on their advice and their information.

SHAPIRO: Governor Kate Brown of Oregon speaking with us from the state Capitol in Salem.

Thank you very much.

BROWN: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.