Just about every county in the state can begin reopening Friday in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. Of the 33 counties that applied, only Marion and Polk were denied. The governor’s office said the two counties will be monitored for the next week to see if their conditions improve.
Those counties that were approved may enter Phase 1 of the governor’s plan, which allows for the limited reopening of restaurants and bars for sit-down service; personal care and services businesses, including barbers and salons; gyms and malls, all under new, specific safety guidelines tailored to each sector.
Three counties — Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington — did not apply for reopening this week, but they are getting closer. Each county must submit a plan for meeting seven criteria for Covid-19 numbers and preparedness — and Clackamas’s is scheduled to be reviewed by the Board of County Commissioners at a work session Tuesday morning.
If it’s approved, then the county may be ready to apply as early as Friday, May 22, according to Commissioner Ken Humberston, who provided an update on the reopening process to the Clackamas County Fair Board Thursday night.
Meeting some of the governor’s criteria has been much more challenging for the three largest Portland metro counties, Humberston admitted.
“We’re the biggest population center in the state, with the highest number of cases and the highest number of deaths,” he said. “All of that makes this more difficult and more cumbersome than any of us might like.”
While it is true that the Portland metro counties have accounted for more than half of the state’s confirmed cases and deaths, the vast majority of that is in Multnomah and Washington counties. At 271 cases, Clackamas County’s tally is far below that of its metro neighbors (Multnomah, 940; Washington, 616) and also trails Marion County, at 779.
In an email to the Canby Now Podcast, Commissioner Paul Savas confirmed the May 22 application date as a possibility. While both commissioners said they understood the urgent situation facing many local businesses that have been impacted by the Covid shutdowns, they agreed that a thoughtful, cautious approach was necessary to avoid an even worse situation.
“There are businesses that will need to make an investment in order to reopen, and if we were to open prematurely and our county experiences a resurgence in the Covid-19 hospital admissions, the State of Oregon could force us to close down again,” Commissioner Savas said. “That would be devastating and put businesses, employees, and the public in a more precarious position than they are today.”
Commissioner Humberston called for citizens to continue to do their part to move the county forward.
“The more we social distance, the more we use masks — as unpleasant they may be — the less likely it that we will experience a surge that overwhelms our hospital capacity, because that would make us move backward,” he said. “Even if you’re skeptical about some of these things, please help us.”
Even if the application is submitted next week, that does not mean the county could immediately begin reopening. The plan would still need to be approved by the governor’s office, and the county and regional health care system must demonstrate that they meet all the prerequisites.
In a webinar with the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce earlier this week, Commissioner Martha Schrader had roughly guessed that the county might actually see its plan begin to be implemented around June 15 — and that was with a “big maybe” attached.
Regardless of county, all standalone retail operations in Oregon are allowed to reopen Friday, provided they meet the required physical distancing guidelines. Local cultural, civic and faith gatherings are also allowed for up to 25 people, with appropriate distancing, and child care is open under certain restrictions.
“We urge all of our residents and visitors to remain vigilant and remember the key steps that each of you can take to stay healthy and help us move to phase one faster: keep washing your hands, remember to wear your mask and practice social distancing,” said County Chair Jim Bernard. “Declining positive cases help us achieve our prerequisites faster.”