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'Much more slowly than any of us would like': Oregon Gov. Brown lays out requirements for counties, regions to start reopening

Brown said rural areas with few or no COVID-19 cases can likely start reopening May 15. But it will take longer for counties that have had more than five cases.

PORTLAND, Ore — In a document released to counties throughout Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown laid out specific details on seven prerequisites that must be met before any county or region can enter phase one of the governor’s "Reopening Oregon" plan.

The governor’s office tells KGW timelines for areas - rural and urban - depend on when they can meet this criteria. 

Brown's office said she and her team are holding a series of virtual meetings with counties and healthcare systems to discuss and collaborate.

Gov. Brown said rural parts of the state with few or no COVID-19 cases can likely start reopening as soon as May 15. But it will take longer for counties that have had more than five cases.

“This process will happen much more slowly than any of us would like,” Gov. Brown said in a press conference Friday.

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According to the document sent to Oregon counties, the prerequisites for counties and regions to enter the first phase or reopening include:

1.     Declining prevalence of COVID-19: This prerequisite only applies to counties with more than five cases. The percentage of emergency department visits for COVID-19-like illnesses are less than the historic average for the flu at the same time of year. Additionally, there must be a 14-day decline in COVID hospital admissions for the county or region.

2.     Minimum testing regimen: Health regions must be able to test 30 people for every 10,000 people in the region each week. They must prioritize people showing symptoms and anyone who came into contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, including people living in congregate settings where someone tests positive. 

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Frontline and essential workers, as well as industries where ideal physical distancing is not possible, must be tested frequently. Health regions need to have enough testing sites for all everyone living there and publicize where and how people can get tested. Low-income and underserved communities need to be able to access testing.

3. Contact tracing system: Contact tracing entails tracking down, and making contact with, anyone who may have been exposed to the virus. Counties need at least 15 contact tracers for every 100,000 people living there and be prepared to contact trace 95% of new cases within one day. Contact tracers must be able to carry out their work in a culturally appropriate way; they must be bilingual and multi-cultural.

Gov. Brown, along with Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), announced the state's robust testing and contact tracing plans on Friday. Part of their strategy is a new year-long study called "Key to Oregon”where OHSU will collect data from 100,000 randomly selected volunteers.

RELATED: Oregon seeks 100,000 volunteers for random COVID-19 testing

“This program is a game-changer. It will give us a more accurate understanding of the true rate of infection in Oregon and have ongoing precision monitoring of any new outbreaks,” Brown said.

“We won't eliminate the spread of COVID-19 in Oregon with people being able to infect others before they have symptoms - or even those who never have symptoms,” Oregon State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger added, “But we hope to slow it as much as we can.”

4. Isolation facilities: Counties specifically need hotel rooms for people who test positive and can't self-isolate. Counties must also have a plan for how they will respond to different outbreaks at a nursing home, jail, food processing facility, farmworker housing, or other group living situation.

5. Finalized statewide sector guidelines: OHA and other groups are working together on sector-specific guidelines. Every sector must adhere to those in order to protect its employees and customers and make the physical workspace safer.

6. Sufficient health care capacity: Hospitals across health regions need to be able to handle COVID patients and other sick people. Each region has to be able to handle a 20% increase in suspected or confirmed COVID hospitalizations, compared to the number of hospitalizations in that region when the governor’s executive order was issued in March. 

If the regional hospital capacity is under that level, an individual county can’t move into the first phase of reopening.

7. Sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) supply: Larger hospital systems need a 30-day supply, while smaller hospitals need enough gear for 14 days. All hospitals in the health region have to report their daily PPE supply to OHA. Counties must prove they have enough PPE for first responders.

RELATED: Nursing home workers called for help before surge in coronavirus cases, records show

Health regions are categorized in the plan as:

  1. Health region 1: Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook, Washington, Multnomah, Clackamas 
  2. Health region 2: Yamhill, Polk, Lincoln, Benton, Marion, Linn 
  3. Health regions 3 & 5: Lane, Douglas, Coos, Curry, Jackson, Josephine 
  4. Health regions 6 & 9: Hood River, Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Baker, Malheur 
  5. Health region 7: Jefferson, Deschutes, Crook, Wheeler, Grant, Klamath, Lake, Harney

“What I would say to all Oregonians is: regardless of what phase you are in, in terms of reopening, we are still going to have to be careful in terms of spreading the virus,” Gov. Brown said in the news conference. “It is just going to be a different type of normal.”

Until we have a vaccine or treatment for the disease, state leaders say we'll still have to physically distance, practice good hygiene and, while recommended, wear masks in public to protect other people.

Gov. Brown's office says she spoke with health care systems and leaders in the following counties on Friday about the process of reopening: Gilliam, Hood River, Sherman, Wasco, Baker, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Harney, Jefferson, Klamath, Lake and Wheeler.

RELATED: Gov. Brown announces Oregon's COVID-19 testing, contact tracing plans

WATCH: Gov. Brown announces testing, contract tracing plans