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Gov. Kate Brown's decision means some Portland-area businesses can return to indoor activities.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN  - Outdoor dining has become a lifeline for many restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Kate Brown is easing some restrictions for a dozen counties beginning in mid-February.Twelve counties will see fewer COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and activities beginning Friday, Feb. 12, as the state dropped risk level ratings for counties due to a decline in new infections.

Ten counties moved out of the extreme risk category, some for the first time since November. That list includes Deschutes, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Linn, which all moved from extreme risk to high risk.

The biggest news statewide was the move of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties, also going from extreme to high risk.

"This is welcome news, as we'll start to see more businesses open up and Oregonians being able to get out a bit more," Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday, Feb. 9, in announcing the updated risk levels.

The announcement ends a streak of sustained extreme risk levels for most of the populous areas in the state, going back to November. Through Monday, Oregon has reported 147,219 COVID-19 infections and 2,024 deaths. After peaking at more than 1,500 cases per day over a one-week average in early December, the infection trend wobbled through the holiday season before beginning a steady drop at the beginning of 2021. The seven-day average is just above 584 new cases per day, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

The risk level move means that beginning Friday, counties can loosen restrictions on indoor dining, gyms, gathering spaces and other areas. The new levels are good through Feb. 25. New risk levels will be announced in two weeks, on Feb. 23, to go into effect Feb. 26.

Oregon's Restaurant and Lodging Association praised the governor's decision. In a press release, association officials said the decision could help restaurants, motels and hotels get employees back on the schedule.

COURTESY PHOTO - Jason Brandt "Today's announcement represents a significant step in the right direction," said Jason Brandt, association president. "It's our job to make sure the governor's office and Oregon's legislators understand what we think will happen next because of today's news. Top on the list are the challenges facing small businesses attempting to manage two weeks of operational certainty at a time which includes finding workers who are trying to pay monthly bills. And we must acknowledge the 14 counties with restaurant operations still trying to survive in the winter with no indoor dining."

Association members said getting people back to work and cranking up restaurant supply chains were the industry's top challenges. "It is our job to be there for our workers and we will be doing our best to explain the uncertainty surrounding future work schedules," said Dan Lenzen, co-owner of Portland's Dixie Tavern. "I hope our ability to open indoors represents a turning point allowing us to be open longer than two weeks. To stay in business, we need the ability to safely use some of the space inside our restaurant consistently and provide the jobs that go along with it."

Vaccines still in short supply

The new rankings leave 14 counties in the extreme risk level, 11 at high risk, two at moderate risk and nine at lower risk. Among the counties still at extreme risk are Umatilla, Crook, Jefferson and Union. The extreme risk category also includes Marion County, site of the state Capitol; Lane County, home of the University of Oregon; and Benton County, home of Oregon State University. Lake County moved from lower to moderate risk.

County risk levels under the state's public health framework aim to reduce transmission of the coronavirus and protect Oregonians from COVID-19. The framework uses four risk levels for counties based on COVID-19 spread — extreme, high, moderate and lower risk — and assigns health and safety measures for each level.

A key measure for large counties to move from extreme risk to high risk is having under 200 new infections per 100,000 residents. Both Deschutes (195) and Multnomah (194) barely fell below the mark. Both counties hit the other metric: under 10% positive rate in new infections.

Since late December, the state has given at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine to 425,076 people, with 141,874 of them having received the full two-shot inoculation. Most of the vaccine early on has gone to health care workers, plus residents and staff of nursing homes. Long-term care facilities have accounted for over half of all deaths in Oregon.

In late January, eligibility was expanded to about 150,000 teachers, school staff and day care workers. Brown has stayed with a controversial decision to prioritize school staff over elderly who are not in care facilities. Eligibility for the first age group, those over 80, began Monday, Feb. 8. However, demand has vastly outstripped supply and OHA said last week it hopes to have 75 percent of all seniors fully vaccinated by May. Plans for additional priority groups are in planning stages. Vaccine supply is thin across the country.

Without a major increase in production of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines now being used, or the introduction of new vaccines such as a one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine that could be available next month, vaccination for most of the 2.8 million adults in Oregon will likely stretch into autumn. There is no vaccine yet approved for anyone under 16.




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New risk levels effective Feb. 12

Lower Risk (9)

Baker (moved from high)

Curry

Gilliam

Grant (moved from moderate)

Sherman

Tillamook

Wallowa

Wheeler

Harney

Moderate Risk (2)

Lake (moved from lower)

Morrow (moved from extreme)

High Risk (11)

Clackamas (moved from extreme)

Clatsop (moved from extreme)

Columbia (moved from extreme)

Deschutes (moved from extreme)

Douglas

Hood River (moved from extreme)

Klamath (moved from extreme)

Linn (moved from extreme)

Lincoln

Multnomah (moved from extreme)

Washington (moved from extreme)

Extreme Risk (14)

Benton

Coos

Crook

Jackson

Jefferson

Josephine

Lane

Malheur

Marion

Polk

Umatilla

Union

Wasco

Yamhill


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