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County sets June 12 goal after submitting application to Gov. Kate Brown; equity, funding concerns fueled delay.

MULTNOMAH COUNTY PHOTO: MOTOYA NAKAMURA - Multnomah County's chief executive, Deborah Kafory, shown during a press conference in March, submmited the county's reopening plan to the state on Friday, June 5. The county hopes to reopen on June 12.After taking extra time, Multnomah County officials have submitted their application to begin reopening and hope to do so on June 12.

The county is the last of Oregon's 36 counties to apply to Gov. Kate Brown to enter Phase 1 of the state's reopening process. Phase 1 allows gatherings of up to 25 people, gyms to reopen, and restaurants and bars to serve people on site.

In May, when Gov. Kate Brown announced the reopening of the state could begin, Multnomah Chair Deborah Kafoury said the county needed to gauge the health implications, seek funding from the state and city of Portland, and make sure the county's reopening plan accounted for systemic inequities affecting people of color.

In Friday's announcement, she said that extra work has paid off. "The county's response to COVID-19, and the work we're putting into reopening, hasn't taken place in a vacuum," she said. "Addressing the inequitable disease burden on communities of color is a critical part of our response and our path forward.''

The county's June 5 application says the county has employed 63 contact tracers out of the 122 called for under state guidelines. Kafoury has previously said the state doesn't require that standard to be met for counties to be approved. Rather, they only need to have a plan to do so.

In addition to state requirements such as positive infection trends, testing sites, and plans to address outbreaks, the county has approved two others: a 14-day-decline in hospitalization trends among people of color as well as sufficient personal protective equipment for workers at social service agencies.

Last month Kafoury said the county would need tens of millions of dollars in assistance to cover reopening costs and said she was in negotiations for help from the state and the city of Portland.

In her cover letter for the county's application, Kafoury reiterated that call. "I hope this letter has made it abundantly clear that Multnomah County has undertaken thoughtful, extensive, and thorough work to be as prepared as possible to enter into Phase 1 of reopening. However, we must continue our efforts to work together with you and our partners at the City of Portland to help provide the financial support that will ensure we can protect health and support our community."

Asked for more information on the negotiations, county Communications Director Julie Sullivan-Springhetti wrote in an email, "The Chair is in active discussions with the City and the State. Both jurisdictions recognize that for the County to reopen safely and equitably, we need their partnership in the form of funding. While the exact amount of their contributions has not yet been determined, we are confident that the dollars will be forthcoming. That likely still won't be enough to avoid additional General Fund reductions to fund our overall COVID response."

If Brown approves the county's application, Kafoury's letter said the county will evaluate its situation on June 10 to determine if it will reopen June 12.


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