One year ago, Gov. Kate Brown established an incident management team to prepare the state against COVID-19, and today she delivered her 2021 State of the State address reflecting on the past year defined by the pandemic and looking ahead to the future.
She likened the pandemic to a marathon and said it was uncertain at this time one year ago what kind of race the fight against the virus would be.
“We didn’t know what lay ahead,” she said. “Whether the race would be short and steep or long and arduous.”
Brown went through the state’s response to the pandemic and justified her decisions to close and reopen businesses and schools based on metrics created by the state.
“Some said it was too cautious, others thought it was too risky,” she said about allowing some businesses to reopen in May.
The result of the actions taken by the state to tamp down the pandemic has placed Oregon in a position to look toward recovery, Brown said. Nearly 2,000 people in the state have died from the pandemic, and over 135,000 people have been infected since the onset of the pandemic.
Brown addressed the summer protests in Portland calling for racial justice following the police-caused killing of George Floyd on May 25.
“Many of us were awakening to what has always been true: Our Black, Latinx, Pacific Islander, and other communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the crises that befall our nation,” she said.
She also addressed the wildfires that swept through the state in September, displacing thousands and killing nine.
“Our friends and neighbors lost their homes, entire towns were wiped off the map and smoke filled the sky for weeks,” Brown said. The fires burned over 1.2 million acres of land, and 1,000 survivors remain displaced.
The 45-minute address was delivered online this year and featured four guest speakers to speak toward the topics raised by Brown: a pediatrician at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital; a rural fire chief; and two members of an advisory racial justice council.
Antwon Chavis, the pediatrician who joined Brown during the address, spoke to the trends he’s seen over the last year and said there has been a disproportionate effect on families of color, and heightened financial stress across the board.
Christiana Rainbow Plews joined Brown to speak about her firsthand experience fighting the wildfires while her own home burned. Brown used the conversation to speak on the wildfire bill she has reintroduce, stating the importance of preventing fires and safely and efficiently responding to fires.
Next, Brown introduced Reyna Lopez, executive director of the state’s farmworkers union, and Paul Solomon, executive director of an organization that helps people with criminal convictions transition from prison. Both are members of Brown’s racial justice advisory council and spoke about ways to advocate for racial equity.
Brown also proposed expanding access to broadband across the state and increasing health care funding— two needs that have been exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic.
“Even when you’re close to the finish line, the final stretch can be the most challenging of all,” Brown said. “We can see the finish line, but the race is far from over.”
Watch the full address here.