Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s office told lawmakers Tuesday it is in active conversations about possible travel restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus between states.
Details of those conversations, and the extent of any potential restrictions, are not clear.
“As the Governor has stated previously, our focus is on restrictions related to tourist travel from hotspot states and communities,” Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Brown, said in a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “Conversations are ongoing about how those restrictions could work.”
It’s unclear what states could be impacted by those potential restrictions; whether they could include quarantine orders following travel; or if the constraints could apply to Oregonians leaving the state, outsiders arriving in or residents returning to Oregon, or some combination of both.
State officials are mindful that some Oregonians near the border may work in other states, or vice versa, and “any restrictions must take economic and supply chain implications into account,” Boyle said.
The governor’s office did not make anyone available Tuesday night for an interview. Boyle did not respond to written questions seeking details about the restrictions under consideration.
Travel restrictions issued by state or local leaders are becoming more common across America as local leaders look to prevent coronavirus spread amid a summer wave of infections.
Since March, Hawaii has required people who travel to the islands to quarantine for 14 days. Massachusetts this month began requiring travelers to quarantine for two weeks if they can’t produce a negative coronavirus test, and Alaska will roll out similar requirements for negative tests next week.
In Idaho’s Ada County, which includes Boise, visitors are encouraged to quarantine for two weeks.
While identified infections in Oregon have plateaued near all-time highs, the state’s case counts are low compared to other states. Oregon has reported nearly 20,000 confirmed or presumed infections and 333 deaths. California, Washington, Idaho and Nevada all have higher coronavirus infections and deaths per capita.
Brown’s legislative director, Elana Pirtle-Guiney, told lawmakers during a private conference call Tuesday that conversations about travel restrictions are under consideration. Brown’s office has declined repeated requests from The Oregoniain/OregonLive to open the weekly calls with lawmakers to the public.
Pirtle-Guiney told lawmakers that she does not expect an “outright ban” but instead some possible form of travel restrictions, according to two sets of written notes from the meeting obtained by the newsroom.
Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, said the call lasted about 45 minutes and was light on specifics.
“I don’t understand how it will work,” Gelser said. “There wasn’t even enough information to formulate questions.”
Gelser said she appreciates that Brown’s office is keeping lawmakers informed about potential decisions under consideration during the pandemic. But floating big ideas that are still in development can create consternation.
“I think often on these calls, they’ve given a hint that they’re thinking of something but haven’t made a decision yet,” Gelser said. “I think that’s part of the tension, that the Legislature wants to be informed but if you put it out there too soon, you kind of create confusion.”
The issue of travel restrictions for Oregon has been raised by members of the governor’s medical advisory panel, Boyle said, based on coronavirus cases “linked to travel in southern Oregon, which is troubling based on the spikes in case counts California is currently experiencing.”
Boyle said Brown’s office is asking the advisory panel and the Oregon Health Authority for more data on travel-related spread and recommendations for health and safety measures to address those cases.
Lawmakers were told Tuesday to expect more information by next Tuesday, if not sooner.
Rob Davis contributed to this report.
— Brad Schmidt; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-294-7628; @_brad_schmidt