PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Nearly every county in Oregon is applying to start reopening this week — except the three most populous counties in the state: Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas.
But those three counties are working together, according to a Washington County official. Washington County is confident it will be ready by sometime in June. But in order to get there, they need to hire more people for contact tracing, case investigation, support and other essential steps.
“Washington County is working closely with Multnomah and Clackamas counties,” said Marni Kuyl, the director of the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services. “Like everyone we are following the data, we are looking at hospitalizations, we are looking new cases and really paying attention to the data everyday.”
Kuyl said the county is looking to put together teams of people to do the contact tracing, track those in isolation or quarantine or exposed to illness and do the necessary case investigation.
“We are pretty confident that we will be ready to open early June and, at the latest, mid- June,” she said about Washington County. “In order to be ready for Phase 1, what we need to do is almost double our public health workforce. We need to hire over 100 people to do that contact tracing, case investigation, support people, monitor folks when they are put into isolation including supporting their needs.”
Multnomah County spokesperson told KOIN 6 News they’re working hard to meet the criteria but haven’t set a target re-open date.
Clackamas County officials told KOIN 6 News they are discussing the issue and hope to have more information next week.
Kuyl noted the three counties have a long tradition of working together, and in a situation like this, it’s more critical to work together since someone may live in one county and work in another.
“Our three counties have a long tradition of working together. Disease like COVID don’t know the boundaries between the different counties,” she told KOIN 6 News. “It’s important that we are working together and we are aligned in order to make sure we are safe and healthy when we reopen.”
Washington County has a new page on their county website with data used to determine how to re-open and hope to submit their re-opening plan to the Oregon Health Authority soon.
“We want to open as badly as everyone else but we want to do that in a safe way that protects everyone’s health,” Kuyl said. “This is a really bad disease and we want to prevent spread as much as possible knowing that we are working fast and furious day and night to get everything so we can open soon.”
Ultimately, it will be up to the Oregon Health Authority to approve the counties to enter Phase 1.
Other counties already submitted re-opening plans
Thirty-three of Oregon’s 36 counties submitted their re-opening plans to Gov. Kate Brown’s office by mid-Tuesday.
That doesn’t come as a surprise as Brown said the more densely populated areas were weeks away from being able to enter Phase 1 one of the reopening plan.
Until Tuesday morning, Lincoln County had not submitted an application, but that changed shortly before noon. The Lincoln County Commissioners finalized and submitted their application to the governor’s office, but it’s unclear if and when the application will be approved.
However, Marion county is saying they are ready to go — and have what the governor is looking for in regards to preparedness & supplies to move forward.
Marion County reports seeing a drop in cases since mid-April and that they’ve developed a rapid response team to investigate should new outbreaks arise. Marion county has also boasted their EMT’s readiness to conduct group testing along with regular shipments of tests.
They say they’ve increased their contact tracing staff tenfold and reserved 20% of hospital capacity in case they experience a surge in sick patients.
On Friday, they are requesting to open businesses, restaurants, bars, personal services, like salons, churches, theaters, health clubs and county parks. If they are granted permission to open on Friday, these businesses would have to follow new OSHA guidelines for sanitation, physical distancing and health safety.
Once a county remains in Phase 1 for at least 21 days, they can potentially move onto Phase 2, which would allow for higher risk activities such as expanding gathering sizes.
“It’s going to be quite a process to go through this and make sure we get the information out to the businesses on how to do it and still keep people safe,” said Oates.
However, if a county shows an inability to meet contact tracing requirements and shows an increase in spread of COVID and hospitalizations over the span of a week, the Oregon Health Authority will reevaluate their status.
KOIN 6 News be following the applications closely and let you know which counties are able to reopen by the end of this week.
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