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Testing still key to reopening Oregon, Gov. Brown says

Gov. Kate Brown wants to see counties' detailed reports, including approval from public health leaders.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she will likely authorize rural parts of the state to reopen before urban areas. But she has benchmarks they must meet and she wants reports on how that will be done.

“We are going to need robust public health systems to, number one: Do testing, obviously, of symptomatic folks of vulnerable populations, folks in congregate care facilities,” she told the Oregon League of Cities during a video call.

She told them she wants to see detailed reports from the counties that include approval from county public health leaders.

Baker County submitted its report last weekend.

Harney County planned to submit its report Tuesday. The county reported its first positive COVID-19 case and the patient is hospitalized, according to county administrator Pete Runnels. He said he believes the county might be ready to reopen in as little as two weeks.

Jolene Cawlfield, director of the Harney County Health Department, said the county does not have enough tests yet. And she worries about the 15 babies expected to be born at the hospital in the first two weeks of May.

She does not want a flare up of the virus to strain the staff or to stress mothers and babies.

“I’d love to see it wait until middle or late May,” she said when asked about the county opening up.

In Central Oregon, Teri Thalhofer is the director and public health administrator for North Central Public Health District, which covers the counties of Sherman, Gillam and Wasco. She said residents have done an excellent job flattening the curve, and that Wasco County has adequate testing capacity, but Gillam and Sherman counties need more.

“In Gillam and Sherman counties things are a little more difficult. We’ve had difficulty getting them enough tests, and so we're looking probably to implement more point-of-care testing,” Thalhofer said.

She said as more testing becomes available in small towns, some will want to get tested right away.

“Once the testing opens up a little more, I think they have first responders that would like to be tested, who are not symptomatic, grocery store workers, that kind of thing,” she said.

But she thinks others will resist.

“I think there is a certain element of fear among people wanting to go out and get the test. Because that is an exposure out in public. So we have heard from people that they are staying home and seeing if they will just get past it because they just don’t want the exposure,” said Thalhofer.

She predicted the counties will be able to open by the end of May, but said there is still work to be done securing enough protective gear and testing.

Gov. Brown’s spokeswoman, Liz Merah, issued a statement yesterday saying:

"In order to ensure those counties have adequate testing capacity, sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, and the public health staff for contact tracing, we will need to see detailed plans that involve input from local public health officials and health care providers. Our office continues to engage with local elected officials and stakeholders to receive feedback on the draft framework for reopening the Governor has outlined, and more detailed criteria for counties to begin reopening will be forthcoming."

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