State rejects region's COVID-19 response changes
Multnomah County's Public Health Director has echoed the frustration many residents have expressed toward the county's return to the Watch List over increased COVID-19 infections.
"Obviously, in Multnomah County, we have a complex situation," said Director Jessica Guernsey. "We have a large population — [a] very diverse population. So, our needs are different than the rest of the state, [and] we often need to have a different conversation."
Guernsey said being added back to the Watch List doesn't do anything to help the county and metro area address the virus more effectively. She said things like how outbreaks are prioritized are treated differently in most other parts of Oregon.
The Oregon Health Authority has declared Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties to be a single region for COVID-19 guideline purposes. The chairs of all three requested the state do more to help with the anticipated surge through a letter sent in August. The state responded with a letter of its own earlier this month, but didn't implement most of the changes the county had asked for.
In a statement, the Oregon Health Authority's Dr. Dean Sidelinger said the agency "takes input from local public health agency partners very seriously. We closely study any suggestions about changes we can make to ensure a better COVID-19 response. Our response is truly a partnership with these local agencies and given the differing roles we play, often they have a very useful perspective on what's happening on the ground and how to improve. We look forward to working with our partners on specific suggestions. In the end, we all share the same goal, which is to protect Oregonians from contracting COVID-19 -- and that can only be done together."
Gurensey said her agency has scheduled a meeting with OHA this week to talk about continuing available support.
The timing of Multnomah County's return to the Watch List happened as health care providers will also be tasked with treating flu patients in addition to COVID-19. Guernsey said both the flu and anticipated increases in coronavirus infections as the weather turns colder and people gather inside will bring an influx of patients.
KOIN News 6 is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. Their story with the letters can be found here.
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