Oregon pauses reopening as COVID-19 cases spike
It remains unclear what specific criteria would have to be met to resume the reopening process
By Ted Sickinger
Citing increases in new cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations and positive infection rates across the state, Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday put a seven-day hold on reopening the economy, leaving the state’s largest county stuck in neutral and several others with their applications to enter Phase 2 on hold.
This is essentially a statewide yellow light that will give public health officials time to determine what is driving the increases,” Brown said during a news conference Friday morning. “When it comes to health and safety of Oregonians, the buck stops here.”
Brown called the pause “a reminder, not a rollback.” But neither she nor public health officials said what specific criteria would have to be met to resume the reopening process. Since all the public health indicators they cited are lagging indicators, it could be several weeks before her move has any noticeable impact on virus trends.
“We will work with doctors and health experts to decide whether to lift this pause, extend it, or take other actions as necessary,” the governor’s office said in statement. “As with all decisions concerning COVID-19, we will be looking to the recommendations of doctors and public health experts, and we will be watching these metrics for all counties closely in the coming days and weeks.”
Oregon, along with Utah, are the first states to put a hold on their reopening process. Brown acknowledged the frustration that the move is causing, particularly for businesses and residents in Multnomah County, the state’s largest and the only one that has yet to start the reopening process. The county had applied to start reopening Friday, and county officials said this week that they were in good shape to move forward, despite a surge in infections and an uptick in hospitalizations.
Phase 1 guidelines allows limited reopening of restaurants and bars, personal services such as salons and barbershops, as well as gyms and malls. Gathering of up to 25 people are allowed for recreational, social and cultural events.
Phase 2 eases restrictions further, allowing a limited return to office work, recreational sports; the reopening of pools, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and arcades, and bars and restaurants are able to stay open later. Allowable gathering sizes increase to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors.
Six counties remain in phase 1, though Hood River, Polk and Marion counties have asked the governor to move to Phase 2. Twenty-nine counties are in Phase 2. And Multnomah County remains the only that hasn’t entered the first phase.
On Friday, some Portland restaurant and bar owners who had announced their reopening plans on social media expressed frustration with the timing of Brown’s announcement, which came after many had pulled staff off unemployment and purchased thousands of dollars in perishable food and drinks in preparation.
Once they said they’re going to apply June 5 for a June 12 opening, that expectation was kind of set,” said Tim Williams of Peters Bar & Grill in Northeast Portland. “I am supportive of these measures, it’s not that I don’t understand, it just creates a little bit of frustration.”
The governor said Friday that public health officials are pumping the breaks because virus trend lines are moving in the wrong direction statewide, with outbreaks stretching from Lincoln County on the coast to Wallowa County in the state’s northeastern corner. Jefferson, Wasco and Hood River counties have seen their case counts spike. Clackamas, Washington and Marion Counties are also seeing big increases.
The state recorded its highest ever new case count – 178 – on Thursday. The rolling 7-day average of hospitalizations has increased from 4 to 6 cases. And the statewide test positivity rate has increased from 1.9% to 3%, still well below national averages but problematic.
Multnomah County is the state’s most populous and has the most cases, and the trends are mimicked there. The county had 43 new cases Thursday and its seven-day rolling average of new cases reached an all-time high this week. During the last four weeks, the number of hospitalizations has gone from 13 to 9, to 11 and 14 per week. And public health officials were unable to trace 40 percent of new cases back to a known outbreak or disease cluster last week.
Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County’s lead health officer, acknowledged that those number lag reality on the ground.
“What we’re seeing now is the result of viral transmission that happened days if not weeks ago, so we’re continually behind in trying to figure out where we’ve been and where we’re going,” she said.
Vines said county hospitalization numbers remain small, and that officials still feel their Phase 1 plan is adequate to reopen. She said she understood the frustration of businesses that want to get their lights on and residents stuck under the governor’s original stay-3号彩票网 order. But she said the governor had concerns statewide, and the county was not going to second guess her decision.
“We want to be cautious as a county. The governor wants to be cautious in her state role, so I certainly can’t fault her for that,” she said.
County officials heard from the governor’s office early Thursday that there were concerns about statewide trends in public health metrics, but they only heard that the governor was hitting pause on their application just prior to her office issuing a news release Thursday night.
Vines said fewer than five of the county’s new cases had told investigators that they had attended a recent demonstration, though officials say they are still waiting to see if the protests become a major source of community spread.
The county has avoided making any recommendation not to attend demonstrations, as Vines said commissioners recognize the racism is also a public health problem in its own right. The county has also avoided mandating that residents wear face coverings in public, recognizing that’s a safety concern for people of color and that enforcement of such a requirement might become its own problem.
Next: COVID-19 hospitalizations, cases surge to new records in the South as states reopen
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