The majority of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners declined to press the issue on applying for phase 2 reopening this week, as several key indicators for the county’s progress in the fight against Covid-19 continue to inch in the wrong direction.
When the county first applied for phase 2 last month, shortly after being lumped together with its larger and more Covid-impacted Portland metro area neighbors Multnomah and Washington counties, Clackamas met four of the governor’s six requirements for moving on to the second stage of reopening.
It now meets only three, commissioners were informed at an update Tuesday morning, with failures in two key measures of Covid-19 testing and continued challenges with contact tracing new cases.
“It doesn’t give us much of a statistical leg to stand on,” said Commissioner Ken Humberston, explaining his reasoning for why the county should wait to reapply for phase 2.
Chair Jim Bernard also wanted to delay things, primarily because he felt the county’s request would fall on deaf ears for state decision-makers.
“I just think it will be a ‘No’ no matter what we do, if we ask,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, we should wait at least another week and see how the rest of the week goes.”
Only Commissioner Paul Savas pushed back.
“I think it’s important to point out that our numbers have really, for the most part, been pretty flat,” he said. “And we’re not spiking, and our numbers are strikingly different than our neighboring counties.”
The commissioner pointed out that most counties were allowed to enter phase 2 without meeting all of the governor’s criteria, including neighboring Marion, which continues to report higher case counts and deaths than Clackamas — despite having a smaller population.
Savas wants Clackamas to be decoupled from Multnomah and Washington for future reopening decisions, and said the county — its leaders, business owners and residents — needs “certainty” about what exactly is going to be required to move forward.
But Bernard disagreed.
“Our numbers are not flat; they are rising,” he said. And though he said he would continue to ask for Clackamas to be decoupled from Multnomah and Washington counties, added: “We cannot give certainty. The virus is making the decision; the people failing to wear masks are making the decision — not us.”
Bernard also stated his belief that “there’s not a huge difference” in terms of the business impact with phase 2, which allows larger gatherings, longer hours for bars and restaurants, and the limited reopening of theaters, museums, pools, recreational facilities and other activities under strict new guidelines.
As to what is driving the increase in Clackamas County, where Canby has been the community with the highest per capita infection rate, health officials say 40 percent of new cases have come from “community spread” — meaning they can’t be tied to any known outbreaks at a long-term care facility or workplace.
State health officials have blamed social gatherings, where people would be more relaxed about distancing guidelines and wearing masks, for much of this increase, and say there is little evidence that large protests have contributed.
Nancy Bush, the county’s disaster management director, echoed this, but acknowledged that not all cases are forthcoming with information.
“The data is not showing at this point that we can trace it back to a protest. At least here in the county, we have not seen that on a consistent basis,” Bush said. “You know, we don’t directly ask, ‘Were you at a protest?’ But we do ask where the person has been.”
“So, it sounds like the safe thing would be to go to a protest,” Bernard quipped.
Commissioner Sonya Fischer said, and several commissioners were in agreement, that the county needs to continue its public information campaign about the importance of wearing face masks in public — which is now a widespread requirement in most aspects of Oregonians’ daily lives.
If you choose to go out, be a good neighbor and stay at least six feet apart from others at all times, wear a face covering and smile with your eyes! We can move #OregonForward by working together. Who do you wear a face covering for? Tag @ClackamasCounty in your photos. pic.twitter.com/aRJIUglptU
— Clackamas County, OR (@clackamascounty) July 14, 2020
Her main concern, outside of public health, was the devastating impact another prolonged shutdown would have on businesses, and she felt Governor Kate Brown’s press conference Monday was an overture to this route — which has already been seen in other states, including Florida and California.
“It’s tough, man. It’s really hard to wear the masks and do six feet apart,” she said, referring specifically to doing so in intimate social gatherings. “It’s really awkward, but you know what, we’ve got to do it. And we’ve got to get the word out or we’re moving back. The governor was really clear about that. I do not want us moving backward.”
Commissioners will hold a virtual listening session at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to hear from residents about the mask mandate and its impact on personal freedoms. To join, click here or call 408-638-0968, 669-900-6833, or 253-215-8782. The webinar ID is 921 3487 3158.
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