Multnomah County approved for Phase 1 reopening on Friday
Despite a spike in statewide COVID-19 cases and smaller increase in hospitalizations, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday announced Multnomah County is approved for Phase 1 economic reopening Friday, June 19, with conditions.
They include requiring that face coverings be worn in all indoor public spaces — such as grocery stores — effective Wednesday, June 24. That also applies to Washington, Clackamas, Hood River, Marion, Polk and Lincoln counties.
"Our entire ability to reopen and stay open is dependent on whether each of us follows basic health and safety protections. Stay home if you feel sick, wear a face covering, keep 6 feet of distance, avoid crowds, and wash your hands regularly. We truly are all in this together," Brown said Wednesday.
Phase 1 reopening allows such businesses as dining room restaurants and hair dressers to begin serving customers again. Multnomah County officials had applied for approval on June 5 and were expecting approval for June 12. But Brown halted all statewide reopenings late on June 11 because of increases cases and hospitalizations.
"I instituted the statewide pause because of the rising number of cases in both rural and urban communities. I did this to give public health experts time to assess what factors are driving the spread of the virus and make adjustments to our reopening strategy," Brown said.
"Since then, the Oregon Health Authority has continued to analyze data in the state, including the source of the growth in new cases, hospitalizations, results of contact tracing and other metrics. Additionally, I have consulted with independent health experts, business leaders and local elected officials," she said.
The largest single outbreak in Oregon involved a church in Union County.
Brown also moved Marion, Polk and Hood River counties to Phase 2 reopening with fewer restrictions beginning on Friday, June 19. She also grouped several counties together as regional units for future reopening decisions, including the tri-county area — Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties — which now will be treated as a single unit in future reopening decisions.
"As a result of these decisions, the entire tri-county region will remain in Phase 1 for at least 21 days after June 19 before the three counties together will become eligible for Phase 2. I know this impacts communities and businesses in Clackamas and Washington counties but, as we reopen our state, we must recognize how interconnected the metro area is," Brown said.
Multnomah County reacts
Though it means less local control and countermands leaders' previously-expressed reluctance to mandate masks, Multnomah County praised the new steps announced by Gov. Brown.
"We all know that people in the Portland metro area live in one county, work in another county and recreate in a third. Yet this virus does not care about county lines," Chair Deborah Kafoury said during a press conference. "I applaud the governor for connecting the three counties."
Kafoury said she had only learned of Brown's plans an hour before the briefing, and there was no news so far on how the mask requirement would be enforced.
"From my own perspective, I think that having a similar recommendation across the tri-county area is much stronger," she said.
Dr. Jennifer Vines, the tri-county's public health officer, said there was no update on how many sick people had attended protests. It was reported as five last week, and Dr. Vines said contact tracers would continue to inquire on that matter, but that it needed to be added as a specific data collection area in online forms.
"I know many are going to treat this as great news," Vines said of the reopening. "I want to emphasize that safety is relative."
Kafoury urged the public not to confront maskless people, highlighting that some people have difficulty breathing and others are concerned about being stereotyped.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.