Governor: Rural Counties Less Affected by Covid Could ‘Begin Process of Reopening’ as Early as May 15

Rural counties and areas of the state that have seen zero or “almost zero” cases of Covid-19 could “begin the process of reopening” as soon as May 15, Governor Kate Brown announced Friday, if the areas meet her specific criteria for reopening.

“I want to be clear that we will not be able to open Oregon quickly, or in one fell swoop,” she said. “This process will happen more slowly than any of us would like.”

She made the announcement at a virtual press conference where she also introduced her plans for a broad strategy of Covid-19 testing and contact tracing, two key elements of her framework for reopening Oregon’s economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We must understand the prevalence of the disease in Oregon,” the governor said. “Testing and tracing serve two purposes: first, to diagnose those who are sick. And second, to see where the virus may be hiding.”

The state’s testing strategy will have three goals: make testing available for any individuals in vulnerable group living situations such as nursing homes, prisons, and farmworker housing; conduct ongoing, widespread and random — yet voluntary — testing, both statewide and within especially at-risk populations; and make testing available for anyone showing symptoms of the coronavirus.

“If you are displaying known signs of the virus, you should be able to be tested. Period,” the governor said.

This widespread testing would be done in partnership with Oregon Health & Sciences University, and will also require unified coordination between all hospital labs, acting as one statewide system, to optimize the available testing capacity and meet the state’s testing needs in every region.

The widespread testing program, which Governor Brown called a “game changer,” will ultimately involve 100,000 randomly chosen volunteers and is intended to give state leaders a “more accurate understanding of the true rate of infection in Oregon and to have ongoing precision monitoring of any new outbreaks.”

The plan also expands Oregon’s testing criteria, so that anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 can be tested within 48 to 72 hours. The plan sets the goal of being able to perform 30 tests per week for every 10,000 Oregonians, according to certain “health regions.”

Clackamas is part of a region with several of Oregon’s other most populous counties (Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook, Washington, Multnomah), which is currently averaging 22.5 tests per week for 10,000 residents — the highest rates in the state.

Governor Brown explained that ensuring adequate testing capacity and contact tracing will allow Oregon’s health care system to effectively identify and treat new cases of Covid-19, trace contacts with new cases to identify those at risk for infection and contain new outbreaks before community spread can occur.

“As we look to reopen Oregon, it’s critical we understand the prevalence of COVID-19 across the state and use science and data to ensure we can safely take steps forward,” said Governor Brown. “A strategy of testing and tracing helps us identify who has the disease and who may be at risk of infection — knowledge that is incredibly powerful as we look to reopen.”

The other key element of Governor Brown’s containment strategy is her contact tracing plan, which sets a goal of training at least 600 contact tracers, deployed statewide by county, whose job it will be to let people know if they’ve come into contact with someone with a positive case of Covid-19.

Brown said there will be a focus on recruiting individuals with cultural and linguistic competence for the populations they serve.

“This team will know how to listen, and will be bilingual and bicultural so they can understand the people they are talking to — people who may be worried or scared that they’ve been exposed to Covid-19,” she said.

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