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'We were ready': Multnomah County health director responds to Phase 1 delay

Multnomah County Health Director Dr. Jennifer Vines said Friday morning the county was confident it had taken the right steps to progress to Phase 1.

Multnomah County officials decided on Wednesday to move ahead with the plan to begin the Phase 1 gradual reopening on Friday. But then on Thursday evening Gov. Kate Brown announced that reopening applications statewide would be "paused" for a week to reassess.

Oregon Health Authority epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger explained in a press conference on Friday there has been an increase in hospitalizations over the last two weeks as well as a rise in the positive test percentages in Multnomah County. And he said more than 40% of the positive cases in the county had not yet been traced to a source.

"We were ready and that's why we moved forward," Multnomah County Health Director Dr. Jennifer Vines said Friday morning. 

"They did mention this morning concern over increase in hospitalization ... we acknowledged that those are small numbers, knowing our health system is not at capacity. We felt that was still an OK context for reopening," she said. "But they have to look statewide. The governor said as she looks around, she has concerns outside of Multnomah County."

Vines said a day after the state's openings were put on hold that the county still hadn't heard what it can do in the next week to help ensure a move forward into Phase 1.

RELATED: 'We're all frustrated': Gov. Brown addresses pause on statewide reopenings

"I fully acknowledge the disappointment, frustration, the feelings of betrayal, thinking today was going to be the day," she said. "I don't have a message for business owners yet. I wish I did. It's the last thing I'd want to do to people.  This wasn't the outcome we expected."

Vines also addressed the question on a lot of people's minds: Are protests causing an increase in coronavirus cases?

"It's certainly a concern. Mass gatherings were the first thing we took off table," she said. "We we felt the soonest we would see an impact would be this week."

RELATED: Dissecting Phase 1 of Gov. Brown's reopening plan for Oregon

She said the county isn't asking people not to attend protests, noting that racism is a public health issue that can have lifelong effects in communities of color. And she acknowledged that it contradicts the messaging about staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. She just recommended those who attend large demonstrations do so take safety precautions.

As of Friday, less than five people who tested positive for the coronavirus had disclosed that they attended protests.

And Dr. Vines acknowledged that a lot of people just want want things to get back to normal.

"There is fatigue," she said. "It's not our human instinct to do this, to disrupt routines for so long."

RELATED: CDC posts long-awaited tips for minimizing everyday COVID-19 risk

RELATED: 'We cannot guarantee that school will open in fall,' Washington Gov. Inslee says

Interactive: Oregon COVID-19 Cases (Map updated Friday afternoon) 

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