Governor Hits Pause Button on Counties Reopening

Governor Kate Brown has put a one-week hiatus on any further county reopenings, in the wake of a “noticeable” increase in statewide Covid-19 infections that she called a “cause for concern.”

“In order to ensure that the virus is not spreading too quickly, I am putting all county applications for further reopening on hold for seven days,” she said in a surprise statement Thursday evening. “This is essentially a statewide ‘yellow light.’ It is time to press pause for one week before any further reopening.”

The state’s three highest daily totals for new coronavirus cases have come in the past week, including Thursday’s record total of 178, which was nearly double the previous high before counties began reopening.

“As I have said before, reopening comes with real risk,” Governor Brown said. “As we navigate the reopening, we are carefully monitoring the capacity of our public health system to respond to COVID-19 cases without becoming overwhelmed.”

Brown said the one-week pause will give public health experts time to assess what factors are driving the spread of the virus, and she will “use the data” she sees to determine whether to lift the hiatus or extend it.

The announcement pushed back what many had expected this week: the phase 1 approval of Multnomah County — the state’s most populous and the only one that remains fully closed from the coronavirus shutdowns.

It also delays the possibility of Clackamas County applying for phase 2, which allows for larger gatherings, longer hours for restaurants and bars, and the reopening of pools, recreational sports and other activities.

Counties may apply for phase 2 after at least 21 days in phase 1 — which happens Saturday for Clackamas — and meeting other criteria, and it’s not clear if our county would qualify.

County health officials last week had expressed doubts about whether Clackamas had cleared the governor’s thresholds for contact tracing and declining numbers of coronavirus cases — and a new outbreak at the Marquis Hope Village Post-Acute Rehab center has likely not helped that equation.

Though the data is measured at the county level — not city — Canby’s confirmed coronavirus caseload has more than doubled in the past week, largely driven by the outbreak at Hope Village.

Indeed, been before the governor’s announcement, the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners had decided to hold off on phase 2 reopening until at least next week anyway, to get more health information on the county’s status and train the 30 new contact tracers that had been hired three days earlier.

In analyzing Covid-19 case data across the state, public health experts at the Oregon Health Authority highlighted several areas of concern, including increased case numbers in both urban and rural communities. Hospitalizations are also beginning to increase in Oregon.

Multnomah County, which has been the epicenter of 14 straight nights of large demonstrations protesting systemic racism in the United States and the death of George Floyd at the hands of former Minneapolis police officers, has seen an increase in residents admitted to the hospital over the last two weeks.

While critics say the higher case numbers are due primarily to increased testing, officials say it is actually the percentage of tests that are positive that is going up. According to the governor’s office, over 40 percent of the new cases in the last week have not been traced to a source.

Hood River County has seen an increase in new cases over the last week and is managing several simultaneous workplace outbreaks, as is Polk County. Marion County has seen an almost 40 percent increase in cases over the last week, and new Covid-19 hospital admissions has also spiked.

Governor Brown will hold a press availability tomorrow, June 12, at 9:00 am to discuss the statewide pause on reopening. She will be joined by representatives from the Oregon Health Authority.

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