Officials: Washington County reopening not likely soon
For those hoping to see additional coronavirus restrictions lifted in Washington County anytime soon, the wait could be lengthy.
Gov. Kate Brown ruled last month that Washington County would only move to Phase 2 of reopening if it did so alongside Multnomah and Clackamas counties, tying the tri-county area together in its approaches to battling the novel coronavirus.
The earliest date the counties could advance is July 10 — 21 days after Multnomah County entered Phase 1. But during a meeting with health officials on Tuesday, July 7, Washington County Board of Commissioners were told recent increases in positive cases put Washington County far from meeting criteria required to enter Phase 2.
"That's just not going to happen for a while," said Dick Schouten, county commissioner. "We're going to have to work really hard, and all of us have to be really serious just to stay in Phase 1."
The seven-day average of new positive cases in Washington County peaked on July 5 at 43.1.
"The trajectory of the curve is concerning," said Marni Kuyl, director of Washington County Health and Human Services. "We are following the national trend and we're seeing more young people, especially those in their 20s, who have been diagnosed over the last couple of months."
Washington County is only meeting one of the criteria required to move to Phase 2, Kuyl said.
The county has been able to conduct contact tracing for 99% of new cases within 24 of them being reported. Counties must contact trace at least 95% of new cases within 24 to qualify for Phase 2.
Although Washington County is meeting the Phase 2 requirement to conduct sufficient contact tracing, it is not meeting a requirement to successfully trace new positive cases to a previously identified positive case. At least 70% of new cases within seven-day and 14-day periods must be traced to an existing case to meet the requirement.
As of July 5, just over half of new cases within a seven-day period and 57.8% of new cases within a 14-day period had been traced to an existing case.
Kuyl said the county's contact tracers have recently received "pushback" from people when they ask for information.
"Ideally, we'd like to track every new case of (COVID-19) to an existing case, but with community spread that's not possible," Kuyl said. "A lot really depends on the community's willingness to engage in case interviews and provide information to the callers."
Kuyl said the information contact tracers request provides a lot of insight into the virus' spread that will influence how quickly the state will lift restrictions.
Board chair Kathryn Harrington said the contact tracing requirement is the only criteria the county has complete control over. Other criteria are dependent on the public's effort to limit the spread of the virus.
"I know people are anxious to move into Phase 2 and beyond," Kuyl said, adding that it's incumbent on people taking precautions to limit the virus' spread seriously. "We need our public to answer the call when we call, but even more importantly is we need folks to wear those face coverings" and physically-distance themselves from others.
Since entering Phase 1, Washington County has almost continuously moved farther away from the Phase 2 requirement of having a less than five percent increase in new cases over the past week.
The lowest one-week percent increase in new cases occurred on June 4 when there was a 5.6% increase.
The upward trend peaked just days ago on July 5 when there was a 23.5% increase in new cases over the last seven days.
The county's test positivity rate, often seen as an indicator of how widespread infections are and whether enough testing is being done, has also increased.
On July 5, the county reported 10% of tests conducted over the past seven days resulted in positive cases. That's slightly down from a peak just days earlier on June 29 when the county's one-week test positivity rate was 12.9%.
Washington County's test positivity rate is also nearly double the statewide rate. The statewide rate on July 5 was 5.3%.
The county also continues to see Latino residents disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Of the 564 households currently instructed by public health officials to isolate because a member of the household has tested positive or is symptomatic, two-thirds of the households identify as Latino, Kuyl said.
Washington County's positive cases have been concentrated in Forest Grove, Cornelius and Hillsboro, according to the most recent data released July 1 by the Oregon Health Authority. All of the county's five most recent workplace outbreaks have occurred in those three cities, according to the OHA. Most of the outbreaks occurred at food processing or agricultural facilities.
One postal ZIP code that covers much of Cornelius had the third-highest per capita case count in the Portland metro area.
Hospitalizations have also increased slightly.
"We declined from the high point in late March, but we have seen steadily more hospitalizations since late June," Kuyl said, adding that the county is averaging one or two hospitalizations per day.
Kuyl said the county and the state are constantly monitoring hospital capacity. Washington County is part of a six-county group including, Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook, Multnomah and Clackamas counties, in which the region must be able to handle a 20% surge increase in hospitalizations compared to a late April baseline.
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