County Businesses Face Specter of Covid Closure … Again

Clackamas County’s restaurants, bars, gyms and indoor entertainment venues could experience a devastating third coronavirus closure as early as next Friday if Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to surge statewide.

Governor Kate Brown made the announcement Friday during a news conference alongside representatives of the Oregon Health Authority, saying the long-predicted “fourth wave” of coronavirus infections is “now here.”

“With Oregon now ranking second in the nation for having the most rapid growth with infections spread, our doctors and nurses are once again overwhelmed,” said Brown.

New cases over the past two weeks have actually been accelerating faster here than in any other state in the country — with a 58% increase in the past two weeks, according to The New York Times.

Oregon also ranks 21st highest per capita over the past two weeks — much worse than the state’s overall performance since the beginning of the pandemic, when the Beaver State recorded fewer cases per capita than 47 other states.

Clackamas is among a dozen counties that currently meet the criteria for “extreme risk” — the highest and most restrictive level in the governor’s current reopening framework.

The extreme risk level would shut down indoor dining for the third time in Clackamas County — as well as limit large gyms and movie theaters to no more than six patrons and prohibit indoor visits at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The threshold for extreme risk is 200 new cases per 100,000 residents. As of Saturday, April 17, the rate in Clackamas County is 212.3 per 100,000.

Before now, a backstop was in place to prevent any county from moving back to extreme risk as long as statewide Covid-19 hospitalizations stayed below 300.

But, according to Governor Brown, that could change as early as next week, with hospitalized patients at 276 Friday. Oregon’s data cutoff for calculating risk metrics and restrictions is typically Saturday – but Brown said she will review the latest hospitalization data before announcing any restrictions, with an announcement likely next Tuesday.

“In the race between vaccines and variants, right now, the variants have the upper hand,” Brown said. “At this moment, we are moving backward. Oregon needs to be moving forward.”

The governor also said the state would cancel a so-called “waiting week” period before moving the counties back to the state’s extreme risk category — meaning the change could take effect as early as Friday, April 30.

Health officials are set to reassess the metrics Monday before announcing which counties will make the shift.

“This is not a step I take lightly, however, it could be the last time we need to impose this level of restrictions given our vaccination trends and the virus’s behavior,” Brown said.

Brown sought to strike an optimistic tone, saying she hopes to be in a place to list most pandemic restrictions and fully reopen Oregon’s economy by the end of June if people continue to wear masks, practice physical distancing — and most importantly, sign up to get the vaccine.

“Vaccines are your best protection against the variants and the quickest way for us all to get back to the people and things we miss the most,” Brown said.

“That’s the hill on the horizon. We can climb it together. How quickly we get there is up to each and every one of us.”

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