PORTLAND, Ore. — Multnomah County’s application to enter Phase 1 of Oregon’s reopening plan has been put on hold for a week. Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday night all pending applications from across the state to enter either Phase 1 or Phase 2 of reopening will be put on hold for a week.
That means the earliest Multnomah County's gradual reopening could potentially begin is now June 19. Gov. Brown said she made the decision because of the increase of COVID-19 cases across the state.
“This is essentially a statewide 'yellow light.' It is time to press pause for one week before any further reopening," Brown said in a statement. “This one week pause will give public health experts time to assess what factors are driving the spread of the virus and determine if we need to adjust our approach to reopening. I will work with doctors and public health experts to determine whether to lift this pause or extend it or make other adjustments."
The governor during a Friday morning news conference said county leaders are working extraordinarily hard to get Oregon reopened. But she said, "when it comes to the health and safety of Oregonians, the buck stops here."
"We are all frustrated," Brown said. "As Dr. Fauci said, 'The virus makes the timeline. We don't make the timeline.'
She said the state is continuing to rely on CDC guidance in the decision making, that there is no playbook for this situation, and that the regional work has been extremely helpful.
Oregon Health Authority Director Paul Allen said large workplace outbreaks are partly responsible for the jump in numbers, and it's too early to tell whether protests have contributed to the total number of cases. The good news, he said, is that more testing is revealing more cases, and that includes finding more people who are asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic.
When asked which specific criteria Multnomah County failed to meet, OHA epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said there has been an increase in hospitalizations over the last two weeks, there has been a rise in the positive test percentages in the past week, and more than 40% of the positive cases in the county have not yet been traced to a source.
Statewide, Sidelinger said the upward trend could mean we start to see hundreds more cases every day, with perhaps 230 new daily cases in early July.
"COVID-19 isn't going away anytime soon," Sidelinger said.
There were 178 new COVID-19 cases reported in Oregon on Thursday, the most in a single day since the start of the pandemic. That daily total comes after more than 100 cases were reported on Sunday and Monday. At least least 70 coronavirus cases have been reported each of the last eight days. By contrast, between May 10 and June 3, there was only one day when at least 70 COVID-19 cases were reported.
The OHA has several areas of concerns, according to Gov. Brown's office.
- Cases of COVID-19 are increasing across Oregon affecting both urban and rural areas. Hospitalizations are also beginning to increase in Oregon.
- Multnomah County has seen an increase in residents admitted to the hospital over the last two weeks. The percent of tests that are positive is going up, in the face of increased testing. Over 40% 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.
- Marion County has seen an almost 40% increase in cases over the last week and new hospital admissions COVID-19 for county residents has increased over the last two weeks.
- Polk County has seen an increase in cases over the last week and is managing a work site outbreak.
Gov. Brown urged Oregonians to practice recommended COVID-19 hygiene, including staying six feet apart from others, avoiding large gatherings, washing your hands, covering your cough, wearing a face covering and staying home when you're sick.
Her guidance for travel: "Keep recreational activities local."
"I'm asking Oregonians to be considerate of fellow Oregonians," she said. "I'm asking you to keep safe and stay local."
Multnomah County, which is Oregon’s most densely populated, is the state’s only county that has not yet entered Phase 1 of reopening.
“This was not the outcome we anticipated when we submitted our application on June 5,’’ said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “I understand how difficult this is for businesses, employers and families. But the increase in cases and delay in reopening is a reminder that we are very much still in this.’’
The county had long targeted Friday, June 12, to begin its gradual reopening. The county's reopening plan included a specific framework prioritizing the needs of the black community, indigenous community and other communities of color, who are disproportionately impacted by the virus both nationwide and in Multnomah County.
Under Phase 1, the following restrictions would be eased:
- Restaurants and bars for sit-down service: Requirements include 6 feet of social distancing; a limit of groups to parties of 10 or fewer; food and drink consumption must end by 10 p.m.; and workers are required to wear masks. See more details on the requirements.
- Barbers, salons and massage businesses: Requirements include social distancing; appointment-only; and a personal protective equipment and customer list. See more details on the requirements.
- Gyms and fitness centers: Requirements include a maximum gathering limit; social distancing; and sanitation. See more details on the requirements.
- In-person gatherings: Up to 25 people, no travel.
The county's health director, Dr. Jennifer Vines, held a press conference on Friday to talk about steps for moving forward after the weeklong pause is over.
After entering Phase 1, the county will need to wait at least 21 days before it is eligible to enter Phase 2.
Twenty-nine of Oregon’s 36 counties have entered Phase 2, where they will likely stay through the fall, state health officials said.
Phase 3, which focuses on large gatherings, will not begin until a COVID-19 vaccine or reliable treatment is widely available.