Multnomah County: 'Irresponsible' to set date for reopening
More contact tracers, more personal protective equipment and more detailed planning is necessary before life can return to normal in Oregon's most populous county.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury blamed a trickle of federal funding for the prolonged closure — saying the county has one-fifth of the state's population, 27% of the total coronavirus cases and 40% of the deaths — but got less than 2% of Oregon's share of the money from the federal CARES Act.
"We have not beaten COVID-19. What we have done is buy ourselves some time to educate ourselves," Kafoury said Thursday, March 14. "This is still a highly contagious and deadly virus that we have only been able to slow by significant sacrifices."
While 28 counties have been OK'd to enter Phase 1, of a three-step reopening plan, the tri-county area will stay mostly shuttered — facing a limited test, as Gov. Kate Brown announced that all previously closed retail stores and childcare facilities statewide should reopen, as should summer camps.
Kafoury says coordination will continue among Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.
"We want to open in a similar timeframe, I can't say that we will actually open all together on the same day," she said.
New modeling from the state has suggested that, although Oregon has flattened the curve, relaxed social distancing could quintuple daily hospitalizations.
Local public health authorities will release an update on the county's readiness to reopen each Wednesday. The first such report says Multnomah County already has met a number of criteria, including a 14-day decline in hospital admissions, adequate supplies of PPE at hospitals, the ability to accommodate a 20% leap in hospitalizations, enough available shelter spaces for those who cannot self-quarantine, and capacity to test 12,400 per week, more than double the amount required by the state.
But other benchmarks, some self-imposed, are lacking: such as a plan to reduce the impact of communities on color, a diverse set of contract tracers, the ability to trace all new cases within 24 hours, plans for responding to outbreaks in group care homes, shelters, or food processing plants, sufficient PPE for first responders and testing sites suited to the underserved.
While Clackamas County commissioners have speculated about a June 15 reopening, Kafoury said it would be "irresponsible" to set a date.
"My own children ask me every day, 'When are we going to reopen?'" she said. "The truth is, Multnomah County is not ready."
By the numbers
• $1.7 billion — amount allocated to Oregon through the federal CARES Act
• $28 million — Multnomah County's share, less than 2% of the total
• 55 people — number of deaths linked to COVID-19 in Multnomah County
• 940 people — number of Multnomah County residents sickened by the virus
• 122 investigators — number of total contract tracers needed before reopening
• 34 investigators — current number of contract tracers employed by the county
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