Some Oregon counties apply to reopen while others hold off


Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas Counties are not asking to reopen yet

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Several Oregon counties sent applications to the governor’s office on Friday to reopen businesses in their counties by next Friday, May 15.

On Thursday, Governor Kate Brown said she and state health leaders will decide next week which counties can start to reopen on May 15. However, that will not be happening in the Portland metro area. Leaders in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas Counties are not asking the governor to reopen any time soon.

The simple explanation is that the tri-county government and health leaders said we are not yet able to safely reopen businesses and protect against a resurgence of the outbreak. One of the biggest challenges has been hiring and training contact tracers. Hundreds of those employees are needed in the metro area, based on the population, to find and monitor people who may have been exposed to the virus to help limit the spread.

“I would say it’s going to be three weeks minimum, maybe longer, for us to achieve the level of readiness the governor is expecting from counties,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Tri-County Health Officer.

Leaders in Washington and Clackamas Counties confirm that they are not applying to reopen next week.

“We still have shortages in PPEs in 25% of our hospitals. We’re still figuring out who is paying for contact tracers,” said Jim Bernard, Chairman of the Clackamas County Commission.

The office of Kathryn Harrington, Chair of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, also shared a statement on the county’s status of reopening. It read, in part:

Washington County is working hard in collaboration with our neighboring counties to meet Governor Brown’s criteria for reopening sometime in early- to mid-June, but that will be based on meeting the Governor’s criteria, including ensuring that the region’s COVID-19 cases are decreasing by that point.

“It is important to remember that the Portland metro region, including Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties, has a bigger population and more cases of COVID-19 than other counties in rural parts of Oregon.  Because the Governor’s criteria for reopening is harder to meet in our county, we will be opening later than other counties.

Based on this guidance from the Governor’s Office, Washington County has been working on a reopening plan that will be reviewed by our County Board of Commissioners at our Work Session on Tuesday, May 12. The public is welcome to listen to the meeting through our live YouTube stream, but public testimony is not part of this particular meeting.

To be able to qualify for reopening, a county must have a decrease in hospitalizations for COVID-19, and meet certain standards of testing and contact tracing, as well as have enough personal protective equipment and capacity for handling a potential surge in cases.

Marion County, an area with the second-highest number of total coronavirus cases, is among the counties that are applying to reopen. County leaders said they have been working with local hospitals and state health officials, as well as the governor’s office, to meet the state requirements. That includes the capacity the manage an outbreak in cases. Their plan has detailed distancing guidelines as well as other precautions and limitations that would be required.

“I think we’re starting to feel the pressure that these folks will go back to work whether or not the government says they can. So, we really view it as our job to make sure it is done in as safe a manner as possible,” said Colm Willis, Marion County Commissioner.

Governor Brown’s office is also reviewing reopening plans submitted by Crook, Curry, Deschutes, Douglas, Lane, Linn, Grant, Jackson, Jefferson, Josephine, and Wallowa Counties. Resources and information on the framework to reopen Oregon can be found online here, including constant updates on the status of which counties are reopening.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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