2021 IN REVIEW: Stubborn coronavirus shaped our year, again
2021 began with Washington County still mired in the "two-week pause" that ended up stretching well into February.
It was a dismal time for many locally owned businesses. Restaurants operated with limited capacity, with indoor dining prohibited. Some businesses, like bowling alleys and dance studios, had to close altogether.
On Feb. 9, Gov. Kate Brown announced that with COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations easing after last winter's surge, Washington County had moved out of the "extreme risk" category. That meant a loosening of restrictions that allowed many businesses to open their doors again or expand capacity.
"We're thrilled," Patty Petersen, artistic director of Forest Grove Dance Arts, told Pamplin Media Group at the time. "The kids are really excited."
But COVID-19 continues to follow a pattern of spikes and lulls.
In May, Washington County narrowly dodged being returned to the "extreme risk" restrictions, when an obscure statewide metric tracking the increase in "patient bed-days" at Oregon hospitals fell just a 10th of a percentage point short of requiring much of the state to go back under the most restrictive COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
The yo-yo effect continued into the summer. Brown lifted the state's indoor mask mandate at the end of June, only to reinstate it in mid-August as the delta variant — to that point, the most transmissible strain of the virus yet detected — fueled a surge that saw case counts, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 rise to record levels by September.
Many businesses and public entities, including the Washington County government, had planned on requiring workers to report to the office beginning this fall. Delta put those plans on hold — in some cases, indefinitely.
Hillsboro and other local cities also instituted stricter mask requirements for city workers. Experts say N95, KN95 and other respirator-style masks are much more effective than cloth masks at preventing viral transmission.
"At its core, we are asking staff to employ stronger measures to protect colleagues, their families, and community members," said Robby Hammond, Hillsboro's city manager, announcing the new mask policy in September, "and we are grateful to all of our city employees for everything they are doing to stay safe during this challenging time."
The Brown administration and many businesses — including Intel Corp., Washington County's largest private employer — have also required workers to get vaccinated. The vaccine mandate is particularly wide-reaching for public employees, including healthcare workers, emergency responders and educators.
Visit the state website to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines and find a vaccination site near you.
This month, Intel notified employees that anyone without proof of vaccination or a corporate-approved exemption by April 2022 will be placed on unpaid leave.
Despite the mandates and the surges driven by delta and now the even more contagious omicron variant, the Brown administration has resisted restoring the strictures of this past winter and spring. To a large extent, businesses now enjoy the freedom to set their own policies and procedures, and people can choose whether and how to gather for holiday get-togethers, after-school clubs and beyond. Many beloved traditions, like the Washington County Fair over the summer and holiday tree lightings this winter, have returned after a year of hiatus. Not only did the Hillsboro Hops, our local minor league baseball team, play a nearly complete season after a 2020 washout, but they hosted the Vancouver Canadians from Canada all summer as well.
This change has made much more feasible by widespread access to free vaccinations against COVID-19, which were only available to a select few at the start of 2021, as well as a better understanding of the "invisible enemy" and how we combat it.
While Oregonians must continue to mask up in public places, as recommended by virtually all public health experts while community transmission is high, we are coming up on one year since Salem forced businesses in Washington County to temporarily close rather than provide their core services. As frustrating as it is to live with the virus in our communities, the state's shift in approach has undoubtedly been welcome news for restaurants, bars, fitness centers, movie theaters and more.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.