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Risk levels fall across the state as most see improvements in coronavirus case numbers.

COURTESY PHOTO: OHSU - Most Oregon counties might be able to reduce their COVID-19 restrictions because of declining infection rates.New COVID-19 risk levels for Oregon's 36 counties showed continued improvement in the latest two-week report, signaling more areas will be able expand business and dining occupancy starting Friday, while allowing for more activities.

"We are largely seeing case rates decline across the state, with the most counties in the Lower Risk level since the framework was introduced in November," Gov. Kate Brown said in officially announcing the new levels on Tuesday, March 9. They will go into effect Friday, March 12.

capital bureauIn all, 13 counties lowered their risk level ratings, while three showed worsening trends to move up a level. Only Coos and Douglas counties remain on the extreme risk level, which once contained well over half of Oregon's counties.

Statewide, Oregon reported 4,615 cases between Feb. 26 and March 6. The statewide average was 108.9 cases per 100,000 residents and the positive test rate dropped to 3.2, indicating that numbers statewide should continue to drop.

In Northwest Oregon, Clatsop and Columbia counties continued to show low enough rates to continue their current risk status. Yamhill County's case rate dropped low enough to qualify for moderate risk status. Tillamook County, however, showed increases that put it back into the moderate risk category, bucking the north coastal trend of lowered infection rates.

The Portland area and Multnomah County showed enough improvement to join Washington and Clackamas counties at moderate level. Lane County, which includes Eugene, dropped to moderate level.

FEMA bolsters vaccinations

Counties with more than 30,000 people have to keep their case rate per 100,000 people below 200 or they are rated as extreme. A count of 100 to 199 is high, 50 to 99 is moderate and under 50 is lower.

Medium counties — those between 15,000 residents and 30,000 residents — are measured by the number of cases over 14 days. Above 60 is extreme, 45 to 59 is high, 30 to 44 is moderate and under 30 is lower.

For small counties under 15,000 residents, the key metric is the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive during the 14-day period. Over 10% is extreme, 8% to under 10% is high, 5% to under 8% is moderate and under 5% is lower.

The improved overall risk level picture came a day after the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it would award $110 million to bolster Oregon Health Authority in operating dozens of vaccination centers around the state. OHA said the FEMA support would enable the agency to administer two million shots during a 90-day period. The FEMA program will send funds to the Oregon Emergency Management Department to then reimburse expenses by local, tribal and state authorities.

Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen told a legislative panel last week that increased flow of vaccine doses and the availability of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine have state officials hoping to have 70 percent of residents inoculated by April 21.

With a significant portion of Oregonians hesitant or outright opposed to receiving a vaccination, that may mean that everyone interested should be able to find a dose around that date. Allen said President Joe Biden has expressed confidence that all Americans who want the vaccine will get their shots by May.

"We think this is a reasonably reliable forecast of where we should be." Allen told the House Subcommittee on COVID-19 on March 3. The testimony was first reported by Willamette Week.

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