MultCo closes libraries, limits jail visits


All 19 of Multnomah County Library locations will be closed until future notice

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Multnomah County leaders held a press conference on Friday evening to give the public the latest updates on how officials are managing the coronavirus outbreak.

On Wednesday, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury declared a state of emergency for the county. Shortly after, Governor Kate Brown canceled mass gatherings. Then on Thursday, the state closed all K-12 schools until March 31.

“We know that each of these decisions are dramatic, painful, and affect people very differently,” said Kafoury at the beginning of the Friday briefing. “I can promise you we are listening to you and working with you to mitigate these issues.”

Kafoury said that health and dental clinics will be kept open in the community, and urged residents to help out their neighbors in these unprecedented times.

“We’re asking for your input, your creativity, your patience as we face this,” said Kafoury. “And remember, please wash your hands.”

Watch the full press conference:

County libraries

Multnomah County Library Director Vailey Oehlke at a coronavirus pandemic press conference, March 13, 2020 (KOIN)

All 19 of Multnomah County’s libraries are closing for the first time in modern history effective at 6 p.m. Friday evening.

“In response to the COVID-19, and under the direction and guidance of the Multnomah County Health Department, all Multnomah County Library locations will close at 6 p.m. today until further notice,” said Multnomah County Library Director Vailey Oehlke during a Friday evening press conference of county leaders. “Closing public libraries in Multnomah County like this is an extraordinary measure. It’s never happened in modern times.”

Library-goers are asked to not return their library books or other materials while the libraries are closed. Late fees have also been waived during the closure. As an alternative, patrons are encouraged to use the library’s digital materials available online.

People who rely on libraries for internet access can still get wifi in the parking. The library director said that the county would leave its wifi on during the closure. Last year, Multnomah County Libraries

County jails

During the press conference, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese announced that, as of Friday, the sheriff’s office is no longer allowing “social visitation” at the two jails in the county in an effort to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 has far-reaching implications for all of us in public safety,” said Reese. “To be clear, there are no presumptive cases of COVID-19 among our employees at the sheriff’s office or in our jail population.”

The interim restrictions on visits will not impact an inmate’s ability to see their attorney, according to Reese. Families and loved ones can still access someone in custody through the jail’s teleconferencing and video conferencing kiosks.

Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese at a coronavirus pandemic press conference, March 13, 2020 (KOIN)

“The adjustments are to ensure the health and safety of our workforce, those in custody, and our community,” said Reese. “As you can imagine, practicing social distancing in a jail facility is challenging.”

An additional dorm has been opened at the Multnomah County Inverness Jail to “create additional capacity,” said the sheriff.

Recent closures, social distancing

Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines then took the podium to answer some frequently asked questions health officers have been fielding in recent days. While testing capacity at the state’s lab remains low, officials do expect some commercial labs to come online soon to help with the demand.

“This is a new virus. We don’t have widespread immunity, we don’t have a vaccine, we don’t have a specific treatment,” said Vines. “The good news is that most of us will be fine. The majority of us will probably have a mild illness. But those over age 60, and anyone with underlying health conditions, are at risk. And I have to believe that we all have people in our lives like that.”

Vines said that spreading people out means slowing the spread of the virus, which will keep severe cases in manageable waves for the health care system.

“That is why were are supporting the cancelation of mass gatherings, school closures, and other measures that limit the mixing of people,” said Vines.

Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines and Sheriff Mike Reese at a coronavirus pandemic press conference, March 13, 2020 (KOIN)

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