PORTLAND, Ore. — As Oregon works toward reopening, Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties are making progress.
Clackamas County filed its application to enter Phase 1 of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's reopening plan on Tuesday night after county commissioners were presented with the county's plan for reopening.
A Washington County official told KGW the county will apply on Friday with a goal of entering Phase 1 on June 1.
"This assumes we can hire and train enough contact tracing staff who are reflective of our community," said Wendy Gordon, lead public information officer for Washington County.
Multnomah County leaders discussed the county's progress on contact tracing, testing, PPE and other metrics at a meeting Wednesday, but the county has no date set yet to submit for Phase 1.
“We need the county to trust that we have a safe plan for reopening. And I think we’re almost there," said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County health officer. "But again, as a dense highly populated and relatively small geographic county, population density does matter and so I think we have a reasonable plan in place and just need more time to get some of these important components nailed down.”
One of the biggest barriers to reopening for all three counties has been contact tracing.
“You can go from a few cases exponentially to a very large number of cases incredibly rapidly. This disease is infectious in a way that’s really tricky for us,” Multnomah County communicable disease director Kim Toves said.
On Tuesday night, staff presented the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners with the county’s reopening plan and the commissioners voted to apply to reopen.
Clackamas County has increased its number of contact tracers from seven to 25 people. The county is working to hire more, including recruiting from local medical and nursing schools, according to Clackamas County public gealth operations manager Philip Mason-Joyner.
“Slowly increasing our capacity. It’s very important we do this in a thoughtful and methodical way,” Mason-Joyner said. “You can imagine leading an organization where you have processes in place with six to eight staff, then up to 25 right now and building that out. It just becomes very complicated and we need to make sure the work we’re performing is of quality.”
For these counties, and really the entire state, the focus is not just on being able to handle current coronavirus cases. Local governments are focused on having enough resources for an increase in cases once counties reopen.
“As we open up we will see more cases so we want to make sure our communities are prepared for that and understand that,” Clackamas County disaster management director Nancy Bush said.
Another factor in the reopening process for Clackamas County is the supply of personal protective equipment.
“This has been an ongoing concern to make sure that our health care providers and emergency responders have what they need, especially those that are serving our most vulnerable populations,” Mason-Joyner said.
Isolation facilities are also still in the works in Clackamas County. Counties must have locations available for those who cannot self-isolate on their own, and the county is also working on plans to help provide for those who must quarantine.
“If they’re not going to be able to work, then they’ll need assistance with their groceries, with laundry, with other basic needs in order to be able to stay home so that they are able to prevent the spread and infecting other people,” Mason-Joyner said.
Multnomah County is working to add more contact tracers to meet the governor’s required 15 contact tracers per 100,000 people. Right now, they have 45 contact tracers and a goal of having around 130.
“I do think that makes sense with that disease, especially, with how fast it spreads,” Toves said. “We do need more of that capacity in place and built up.”
The county is also working on outreach for contact tracing, ensuring they can meet the needs of everyone in their communities and dispel misconceptions around contact tracing.
“I just want to let folks know, first of all, it’s secure. It’s confidential. It has more specific legal protections around it than even your own medical health records do,” Toves said. “And I do also want to mention, because this has been a concern for people, that this is voluntary that you share that information with us.”
On Wednesday, Multnomah County leaders said hospitals and first responders have enough personal protective equipment. The county has been planning for different scenarios should the number of new cases flare up.
“I’m here to tell you that today we are not releasing a date for reopening or a specific date in which we will be submitting our plan to the state of Oregon. We’re working with our board and our chair ultimately, chair Deborah Kafoury, to determine what the plan and what the date should be,” said Multnomah County health director Rachel Banks.
Washington County announced Tuesday that its board of commissioners approved a reopening plan following the seven criteria set by the governor.
The county plans to apply Friday with a goal of entering Phase 1 on June 1. The plan is dependent on hiring and training a sufficient number of contact tracing staff.